Story

Views from the Boardroom

Marjorie Kaufman’s View from the Boardroom


Principal, Osprey Creek, LLC
Chairman, Undercover Colors, Inc.
VIP Member, Women in the Boardroom

 

 

Marjories’s Keys to Success:

  1. Invest more time than you expected to in getting to know your CEO & fellow directors
  2. Take steps to really understand the culture of the company

 

What made you decide that you wanted to become a corporate board member?

My interest in governance issues dates back to my early days in investment banking.  Through my work in M&A at Bankers Trust and Prudential-Bache, I became a nationally recognized expert in ESOPs and learned how to navigate governance and strategic conflicts between employee shareholders, outside shareholders and executives.  Later in my career, I was exposed to the inner workings of activist funds while working as a Partner with Barington Capital. I became involved with some of Barington’s campaigns against companies like Avon and Chico’s FAS and accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience about corporate governance and proxy issues. Around this time, I also became interested in how some large public pension funds were waging their own activist campaigns on issues like proxy access and ESG. All of this contributed to my interest in joining a corporate board and helping to guide policy from the inside.

I was also ready to move forward with a corporate board after amassing over 12 years experience serving on nonprofit boards. At High Water Women, my first board, I served as a founding director. Through that position, I was recruited to a larger and well-established board, the Student Leadership Network (formerly Young Women’s Leadership Network), where I was asked to lead the nominating committee. More recently, I was invited to join the board of Westchester Land Trust and now chair the Investment Committee. I also helped get a charitable foundation off the ground to help survivors of sexual abuse at my high school and still serve as Chairman for that effort. Through these roles, I gained valuable, hands-on experience, such as guiding an organization through executive changes, strengthening governance, and working through a number of strategic challenges.  I learned how important it is to build relationships with fellow board members and executives, and to help forge consensus on difficult and sensitive issues outside of the boardroom

 

Once you decided to work on getting onto a corporate board, what were some of the first things you did?

I began mentioning my interest in joining a corporate board to corporate executives, search consultants and directors I already knew and those I met at investment conferences and networking events.  I found out about Women in the Boardroom and thought WIB would be helpful in my search and signed up. Guided by WIB’s webinars, I created my board bio and related materials. This was critical because the minute a board opportunity arose, I was ready to submit my qualifications.

 

How did you get connected to your first board seat?

Over the past 15 years, I have personally invested in close to 20 private companies. Many of them fall under the category of “impact investments” in the life sciences. In several of these companies, I’ve made a point to be an actively involved shareholder. During shareholder meetings, I weigh in on strategy and financing issues and, on the sidelines, I share my thoughts with executives and other shareholders. In mid 2017, one of these companies found itself at a crossroads requiring a change of leadership. The Chairman resigned, and her seat needed to be filled by another shareholder with governance and board leadership experience. Several influential shareholders nominated me as a candidate having those qualifications.

 

How many corporate boards did you interview for before landing your first seat at the table?

None.

 

How long did it take you to get your first corporate board seat after you started devoting time to the process?

About one year.

 

What characteristic or behavior did you exhibit that you believe was a critical factor in your successful candidacy for your first board appointment?

I believe that publicly and thoughtfully expressing my views as an actively involved shareholder and making my governance credentials known resulted in effectively raising my profile with both the board and key shareholders. My experience on Wall Street, especially with an activist fund, helped position me as someone who had the personal strength and governance experience to help guide the company through a challenging time. Importantly, I was told that, as a result of my previous interactions with executives and directors, I was viewed as someone who could work collaboratively with all factions.

 

How did you prepare – in every sense: emotionally, intellectually, practically – for your first board meeting and in what ways did that preparation pay off?

Prior to my first meeting, I engaged with each director over numerous lengthy conference calls.  I asked pointed questions about the recent history of the company and elicited their thoughts on what actions needed to be taken to right the ship. I listened carefully to gain an understanding of each director’s point of view as well as to develop a laundry list of issues that needed to be addressed by the board.  I then spent many hours on the phone with the CEO discussing marketing strategy, production and finance issues. The CEO had raised the possibility of vacating his position and I wanted to understand if that was best for the company. Lastly, I spoke with many individual shareholders to understand their concerns and objectives.  When I arrived for my first board meeting, I not only had a good understanding of the challenges we needed to confront but I also had a roadmap on how to forge consensus on several key issues. At the conclusion of my first meeting, I was formally nominated to be Chairman, and within 6 weeks, we successfully recruited a new CEO.

 

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? 



In joining my first corporate board, I drew upon all of my experiences as a nonprofit director, notably from my 8 years with the Student Leaders Network (formerly known as Young Women’s Leadership Network). The Student Leadership board was run in a highly professional manner with strong governance thanks to its founder, Ann Tisch.  Everything I learned and experienced as a board member of the Students Leaders Network – working collaboratively and effectively with both directors and executives, understanding how to approach discussions of strategy, observing and emulating Ann Tisch’s venerable leadership skills – helped pave the way for my transition to a corporate board.

I wasn’t surprised by anything in particular. Rather, my first experience on a corporate board confirmed two pre-existing assumptions: everything is far more complex on the inside and some directors carry more of the load than others.

 

How do you feel you are making a difference as a board member? 

Working closely with our CEO and other board members to launch the SipChip, an important personal safety product which accurately detects date rape drugs in over 100 beverages in about 20 seconds, has been an immensely rewarding experience. It’s a pleasure to look back and see how effectively the board came together during a difficult time to raise financing and reset strategy in collaboration with our CEO. Now we are looking at other consumer diagnostic applications of our technology including the rapid detection of diseases in animals and humans. It’s exciting to play a role in the company’s evolution.

 

Marjorie Kaufman’s Bio

Marjorie Kaufman has over 30 years experience in finance and marketing with firms such as Bankers Trust, Prudential Securities, J&W Seligman, Kingdon Capital, Guggenheim Partners and Barington Capital. Currently she is a private equity investor focusing on life sciences. She holds a BA magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Marjorie is a CFA and a qualified financial expert.

 

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 membership@womenintheboardroom.com.

The opinions and experiences expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.

About Women in the Boardroom™

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