Independent Director, Milacron Holdings Corp. (NYSE: MCRN)
Independent Director, Nature’s Sunshine Products (NASD: NATR)
VIP Member, Women in the Boardroom
Rebecca’s keys to success:
- Come to each board meeting knowing your key points or areas for discussion and be efficient in how and when you communicate. There are many voices in the room without a lot of time. Try to be that person who others describe as “not speaking much but having great insight when they do.”
- Be sure to strike the right balance between supporting the CEO and being a representative of the broader shareholder/stakeholder group. The temptation will be to give the CEO the benefit of the doubt in most situations but your duty as a board member is to maintain a level of objectivity and independence. Simultaneously achieving your governance objective and supporting the CEO in achieving the organization’s objectives can be an art, especially when the organization is going through tough times.
- Talk to other board members outside of the formal meetings to hear their and share your perspectives. Doing so helps improve your ideas and build consensus around them before the formal meetings.
What steps did you take to prepare for the board interview process that benefited you most?
I had just joined WIB when I was contacted by a recruiter about what turned out to be my first board role. The resources provided by WIB were invaluable in helping me turn this lead into a board position. Specifically, the webinars and live coaching on how to create board-focused documents were tangible and efficiently applied. Also, the guidance on interview preparation was helpful. Knowing that board interviews are truly mutual assessments enabled me to confidently ask questions that helped me land a seat where I could quickly add value. WIB’s clarity around how board searches differ from traditional job searches was instrumental in helping me navigate this then-new process.
What characteristic or behavior did you exhibit that you believe was a critical factor in your successful candidacy for your first board appointment?
I would like to think that I was able to demonstrate how my experiences and knowledge could be applied to help the company and its CEO. I think boards want directors who are “strong athletes” AND can add tangible value in specific areas. I studied the company before the interviews and identified the three biggest ways I could contribute. In the interviews, I asked probing questions to assess whether my hypotheses were correct. In so doing, I helped them understand areas where I could contribute and gained confidence that I could add value quickly, despite the company being in an industry where I had no prior experience.
How did you prepare – in every sense: emotionally, intellectually, practically – for your first board meeting and in what ways did that preparation pay off?
First, I consumed as much information about the company as I could, including requesting a formal set of on-boarding materials and activities from the company. It was particularly helpful to experience the company through the eyes of the customer by making some purchases, talking to other customers, and by reading reviews online. I believe bringing a customer perspective is one of the fastest ways a new board member can add value. Second, I spoke with people in my network about how public company board meetings are run. Boards will expect you to know the general mechanics of how committees and the board operate so I made sure I knew prior to my first meeting. WIB was helpful in connecting me with women who encouraged me to ask the “dumb questions” that turn out to be the most embarrassing/tragic if you don’t know their answers!
What is your favorite thing about being a board director? Least favorite thing?
My favorite thing is figuring out how to add value to the company and support the CEO in an environment where you have restricted information and time. How do you have an impact without bogging down Management and consuming their valuable time? My least favorite thing is having to spend board time and company dollars on regulatory requirements that add little to shareholders, customers, or employees.
How do you feel you are making a difference as a board member?
One role I play is identifying issues and opportunities that may only exist in Management’s peripheral vision. Oftentimes, operators are so heads-down executing the plan that they don’t see looming risks and opportunities. Because board members have the luxury of not having to execute the day-to-day, they can play an important role in helping CEOs identify risks and opportunities that they might otherwise miss.
What is the ONE essential piece of advice you’d give to other senior-level executive women who are on a journey to their first seat at the table?
Don’t be shy about telling people about your aspirations and asking for their help in identifying opportunities and connections. And be patient…don’t assume that just because it doesn’t happen quickly that it won’t happen. I decided that I wanted to pursue a second board position earlier this year and followed the WIB recommended process. It took six months, but I secured a position through my network.
Rebecca Steinfort is CEO of PrimaryPsych, an early stage digital health platform that enables primary care physicians to better diagnose and treat behavioral health conditions. Rebecca also serves as an Independent Director and Audit Committee member for Milacron Holdings, a leading industrial technology company serving the plastics processing industry, and for Nature’s Sunshine Products, a nutritional and personal care products company.
Views From The Boardroom is an exclusive series from Women In The Boardroom, where corporate board directors share their experience, insight and wisdom and their view from the boardroom. Corporate board directors interested in participating should email email@example.com