Chair & CEO, Vantage Outsourcing
Board Director, Quintet Investments
Board Director & Audit Chair, Illinois Teachers Retirement Systems
VIP Member, Women in the Boardroom
Former Chair & President, Physician Surgery Center
Former Board & Audit Chair, Midland States Bank
Ann’s keys to success:
- Discover, then pursue your passion. Jobs, careers and life are so much more fun when you are doing something you really want to do.
- Come fully prepared for meetings by reading all board material & researching areas where needed, with the ultimate goal of adding value and challenging status quo as a board member.
- Remain disciplined to address board governance, company growth, policy/procedures and find every opportunity possible to network with fellow board members and the executive management team.
Ann, how did your journey to the boardroom as a corporate director begin?
Due to my background and connections, I was appointed to my first board at an early age. Was I intimidated? Absolutely! But after my 3rd or 4th monthly meeting, I realized my experience, fresh outlook & entrepreneurial approach to business matters was valued by fellow board members. Initially, I learned: (1) it is best to listen to both what was said as well as what was not said, (2) how to ask probing questions to better understand issues presented by management without intimidating them, (3) the importance of changing “status quo” mentality through strategic planning, implementation and timelines, and (4) how best to use financials as a report card of the past, but avoid using them as benchmarks for future growth and potential.
What characteristic or behavior did you exhibit that you believe was a critical factor in your successful candidacy for your first board appointment?
A logical mind, levelheadedness, the ability to make decisions based on facts and figures (i.e. not emotions), the ability to listen, the ability to raise concern through probing questions, being a team member with a challenging and thought-provoking approach to process improvement, marketing, customer service, business expansion, etc..
How did you prepare – in every sense: emotionally, intellectually, practically – for your first board meeting and in what ways did that preparation pay off?
Intellectually & practically, I read all board material in advance of the meeting, highlighted the exceptional as well as concerning matters, and prepared a list of questions for management. I touch base with management prior to the meeting to better understand factors, influences and past dealings that influenced key board issues. I also do independent research on some agenda items to gain more insight. As a non-management board member, I want to ensure that I am well-informed and not just following management’s lead. From an emotional standpoint, I approached my first meetings with an attitude of “I’m here to learn, as well as observe the dynamics & culture of the board.” This helped in reducing my anxieties of the first meeting and opened conversation and networking with other board members.
What has surprised you about the reality of board service versus the expectations that you had coming in – in a positive or maybe not so positive way?
On the positive side, I have found most of my boards to be very cohesive & respectful of each other’s views and artful in the way they challenged management. On the not-so-positive side, I was surprised at the lack of contribution and insight from fellow board members. The worst experience encountered was when an “outspoken with his own agenda” professional was added to a cohesive, forward thinking board. This board addition was corrosive to a well-functioning board. As a result, we lost good board members.
What have you learned about yourself through serving as a corporate board director – how have you grown?
I’ve learned a great deal about board governance, enhanced my skills on how to effectively manage board & management politics, expanded my knowledge on such things as cyber security, and developed better ways to hold management accountable for high grow goals/objectives, to name a few.
Help, hindrance or both – how does board service complement your professional career?
It has definitely helped, particularly with expanding my professional network.
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 get discouraged with lack of progress and don’t ever give up.
What is your favorite leadership quote that has inspired you on this journey? – this could be your own personal mantra!
One is a quote from Winston Churchill; “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Another is from my own experience when I sat on many boards where I was the only woman and sometimes the first women to serve on their board: Making statements seemed to turn off the male board members. When I felt I was being ignored or not heard, I found success in turning my statements into questions. Thought-provoking questions caused others to address key issues and/or to think broader.
Ann Deters currently serves as the Chairperson of the Board and CEO of Vantage Outsourcing, a nationwide medical service entity whose mission is to deliver quality eye care with enhanced efficiency and profitability by providing cataract outsourcing solutions. Her corporate board experience is extensive in the finance, services, construction and healthcare industries, ranging in size from $2 million to $800 million in assets. As appointee of the Governor of Illinois, she serves as Trustee on the Teachers’ Retirement System, a $40 billion pension system and 87th largest public pension in the world.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions and experiences expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.