President, The Brownstein Corporation
Board Director for P&F Industries (Nasdaq: PFIN), Chair, Nom/Gov and Strategic Planning/Risk Assessment Committees
Non-Profit Board Director for Merakey
NACD Philadelphia Chapter (Immediate Past President)
Howard’s Keys to Success:
- Remember to keep “noses in, fingers out” when serving on a board.
- It’s essential to recognize that board directors are not “in charge”. Rather, they’re part of a group where the most important skills are to listen and analyze, think “outside the box”, and persuade others.
- Be curious and healthily skeptical.
- Recognize all the risks that the company faces, and that risks can change and new ones can arise.
What made you decide that you wanted to become a corporate board member?
My first board role was when I was a student, and was on the board of The Harvard Cooperative Society (“The Coop”), a small department store which serves the Harvard and MIT communities, and whose board is composed of faculty and students. I was fortunate to learn corporate governance from the late Prof. Louis Loss who taught securities regulation. I have been serving on boards ever since, for more than 40 years.
Once you decided to work on getting onto a corporate board, what were some of the 1st things you did?
Even back then, I recognized the importance of onboarding. There was no established process, so I created my own, “shadowing” various company executives to learn about what they did, as well as the store detective, the audit team when they took inventory, etc. I learned early the value of being curious!
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?
As a young grad student beginning a JD/MBA program, I had no idea what boards did or the role they served. And yet we faced real challenges – onboarding a new management team, and dealing with director misconduct. I learned early the valuable role that the board can play in supporting management and overseeing risk management.
Help, hindrance or both – how does board service complement your professional career?
Serving on boards – public companies, private companies, and large nonprofits – is a natural extension of my “day job”, which has historically been turnaround management and restructuring, but today (at least while the economy remains strong) is mostly investment banking for healthy companies.
What is your favorite thing about being a board director? Least favorite thing?
I like the collaborative process by which boards work, since no board member has any authority other than to attend the meetings and vote. My least favorite aspect is having to spend company funds on D&O insurance, the cost of which is driven in part by litigation brought just for settlement purposes.
How do you feel you are making a difference as a board member?
I am a strong stand for the value of good governance to reduce risk and increase enterprise value. I am often sought after for board roles that are challenging: shareholder activism, compliance issues, restructuring, disharmony, etc. As a turnaround professional, I don’t “faint at the sight of blood”, so I just work to help bring down the “drama” and get something done.
Howard Brod Brownstein’s Bio
Howard Brod Brownstein regularly provides programs for Women in the Boardroom, and is President of Brownstein Corporation, which provides turnaround management and advisory services, investment banking, fiduciary and litigation consulting services. He serves on the boards of: P&F Industries (Nasdaq: PFIN) where he chairs the Nominating/Governance and Strategic Planning & Risk Assessment Committees; Renew Financial, where he serves as chair of the Risk and Operating Committees; and Merakey, a nonprofit with over 10,000 employees.
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™.