CFO & EVP, American Tower
Corporate Board Director, Equinix, Inc.
Tom’s keys to success:
- Broad and deep career experience, field and corporate, including service on internal boards, is great preparation for corporate board service, and never stop learning. There is a great deal of information and training available, find it and use it.
- Do your due diligence on any corporate board opportunity that is presented to you – on your role, on the company, on the people.
- Word of mouth is the critical component in securing a corporate board seat for the majority of placements, so expand your network circle and exercise patience.
Tom, tell me, how did your journey to the boardroom as a corporate director begin?
As you advance in your career, you tend to get many different types of experiences. This included serving on several internal boards on private and public companies globally. At Verizon I probably had a dozen different types of roles in either a line role or staff role. I also had domestic and international roles. And field roles vs corporate roles. So each role allowed to me gain insight to provide a broad operational, strategic and governance perspective. With a large company like Verizon, where I rose to the position of controller, we had many partnerships, JVs and investments in publicly traded companies. I was afforded the opportunity to sit on many of these boards, which allowed me to gain experience as an independent board member. My corporate roles at Verizon and at American Tower have given me great insight and respect for the overall governance process requirements at the board and committee level. At American Tower, I am the lead from a management perspective with the audit committee and understand the role of the board member, audit firm, internal audit and management. What made a good fit for me and Equinix, where I am currently a board member, was the immediate benefit I could bring to them as they were contemplating becoming a REIT. That was a key reason why they approached me.
In your experience, what makes an effective board?
Members must know how to be collaborative, know how to provide effective governance, know how to select and motivate the management team, and know how and when to assert themselves. Regardless of gender, ethnicity, or backgrounds, the successful board member is one who excels at working with a team, can think strategically, is able to bring skills and experiences to a team that is relevant and capable of being used in their business and enjoys the entire role as well as being comfortable in the increasingly complicated governance role with all the responsibility.
What questions should a candidate ask him or herself when considering joining a board?
When exploring a board seat with Equinix, I did my due diligence. The liability of board roles today is at an all time high, so contemplating a role must be taken with great care. I made sure the credibility and integrity of the management team was high, that I really liked the management team and board, and that I could add value immediately. I also felt good about the underlying business, as Equinix is a business very much like American Tower in terms of the business model, customers, and drivers.
What has surprised you about the reality of board service versus the expectations that you had coming in?
I totally underestimated just how much time would be required to be a board member. A board role today takes an incredible amount of time. At a minimum there are 4 board meetings of at least two days each. In addition there will be committee work. For example, on the audit committee there will be 8 meetings a year at a minimum. But having said that, my experience over the last three years has far exceeded my goals. I have enjoyed the strategic and operational discussions immensely. The business has been very acquisitive globally, which has been fun. I really have enjoyed being part of a team that is very passionate and smart, and the mentoring aspects of the role as well. So it’s a function of how much time you are willing to invest in getting to know the business, the industry and the most importantly the team.
What would you say to female executives who are on the journey to the boardroom?
I do believe management teams and boards have embraced the notion and benefits of diversity, so the journey and steps necessary are not so different for men or women. The best lead for everyone is their own success, their reputation, their experience. There are search firms, governance organizations, etc who are hired and do place board members. What I have observed though, is that the most successful board directors get placed by word of mouth. It takes time to get a role. The process takes time: there needs to be a lot of due diligence done to make sure there is a fit. Patience is necessary.
Tom Bartlett is CFO & EVP of American Tower, (NYSE: AMT) a leading independent owner, operator and developer of wireless and broadcast communications real estate.
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