CEO Health Intelligence Partners
VIP Member, Women in the Boardroom
Board Director, GNS Healthcare
Board Director, Accentcare
Board Director, Tabula Rasa
Board Director, Voluntis
Jan’s Keys to Success:
- Do your due diligence on fellow board members so you can best understand the professional experience they bring to the table
- Read the board material as soon as you get them & then again prior to the meeting. By reading it twice, you’re better able to ingest the information.
What made you decide that you wanted to become a corporate board member?
I have had a diverse set of careers over 30 years. I began my career as a practicing physician and over several years transitioned to a number of senior roles in the corporate sector. I also gained experience working both in the U.S. and overseas. I felt that the knowledge and experience that I had gained could be valuable to others. I knew that I wanted to continue to support organizations that I respected and felt that board service was the next logical step in how I could contribute. I have gained a unique set of skills through my career as a clinician and a business executive at the intersection of strategy and operations. These are skill sets that led to great success in my varied corporate roles and I believed would be valuable through board service. Remaining both relevant and continuing to learn were also very important factors.
How many corporate boards did you interview for before landing your first seat at the table?
I interviewed with one organization for a corporate board position prior to being chosen for a board seat. During the process I was offered the opportunity to be a board observer as a final step in the process. I had learned through my board preparation program as well as from my colleagues that were sitting on boards that meeting past and present board members associated with the companies that you are being considered is quite important. You want to have the opportunity to access the manner in which the group interacts with each other as well as your personality match to the opportunity. What I found was the board was quite dysfunctional. In fact, a shouting match and fist fight broke out between two members of the board. Due to the experience, I removed my name from consideration. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed but realized that this was not a board where there was a good temperament match. My second opportunity lead to my first corporate board offer and membership. In speaking to others I understand that it can often take much longer.
How did you prepare – in every sense: emotionally, intellectually, practically – for your first board meeting and in what ways did that preparation pay off?
I prepared for my first board meeting by making sure that I had as much knowledge as I could about the company whose board I was joining. During the interview process, I had done a great deal of this work but organizations are not stagnant so it was important to stay on top of any new information. Secondly, I did my due diligence on all of my fellow board members so I could best understand the professional experience that they brought to the table. The third thing I did was to read the board material as soon as I got it and then again a day or two prior to the meeting. Often board material can be lengthy and initially overwhelming. By reading it twice I was better able to ingest the information. Although I am an outgoing and inquisitive individual, I intended to say very little during my first board meeting as I was the new person at the table and I wanted to be respectful to those that had much more knowledge and experience. Half way through my first board meeting the chair turned to me and began asking my opinion. I was not expecting this. I was glad I was prepared so that I could then ask thoughtful questions and give my thoughts and opinions in a helpful manner.
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?
I think that the most surprising thing is that you are sitting at a table with many accomplished individuals and for the most part there is little or no ego or one-upmanship occurring. I was initially quite intimidated by the titles and experience of my fellow board members but what I found was congeniality and an earnest desire to support the organization as a team.
What is your favorite thing about being a board director? Least favorite thing?
One of the roles of a board member is to mentor the executives of the company. In some cases it can be the first time CEO or members of the companies executive team that are new in the roles. In other cases it may be less senior but high potential members of the organization. I was lucky enough to have people during different touch points in my life that were wonderful mentors. I believe that it is my responsibility to mentor those that are having direct execution responsibilities in the companies that I am sitting on the board of as well as the next generation of board members.
What one thing do you wish you knew before you started your board journey?
All boards are different. Although all boards have some similarities, the structure and the personality of a board is created through a number of factors. Some boards are more formal while others occur in a more relaxed atmosphere. The personality of European boards are different than those of many U.S. boards. The personality of the board often has little to do with the company’s size although publicly traded boards all have more regulatory requirements. The personality of the board has more to do with the CEO of the company, the leadership style of the board chair and the make up of the board itself. It is important to make sure that your style and personality are complementary to the board that you have the opportunity to join. Boards, like the companies that they serve, can go through stressful periods. The first board that I joined had three such stressful periods; a government investigation, the untimely death of the CEO and an eventual sale of the company. All three of these events created situations where the board was speaking much more often then the scheduled quarterly meetings. In fact, during two of these events we were speaking at least twice a week for several hours at a time. These types of events can also impact the personality of the board.
Jan Berger Bio
Experienced Corporate board director and senior executive in Fortune 200 company
Jan is a tri-sector executive with both strategic and operational experience in Public, Private and Governmental sectors both in the United States and Globally within the healthcare and consumer goods and services arena. Over the last 30 years, Jan has proven repeated success in high growth organizations through her leadership of P&L, M&A and strategic innovation. Over the last 10 years Jan has extended her successes and leadership in her board roles including board vice chair, chairperson of compensation, operating and compliance committees. In addition to Jan’s corporate and board roles, she is a prolific writer including four books as well as an international speaker and thought leader.
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.