Private and Public Company Independent Director
PNC Funds and PNC Advantage Funds Board of Trustees
NACD Carolinas Chapter Founder, Executive Committee Member, Nominating Committee Chair
The Committee of 200 Foundation Board Member, Treasurer, Investment Committee Chair
Former Independent Director, MBIA, Inc. (NYSE:MBI)
Maryann’s keys to success:
- Board service is the ultimate team sport, placing high value on the diverse skills, qualities and knowledge base of the entire board. Working cohesively together, being open to other opinions and willing to actively listen to cultivate consensus will ensure success.
- Be curious and courageous – ask thought-provoking questions and be willing to be different, step forward, speak out and voice your opinion, even if your advice runs counter to conventional wisdom.
- Be a forward thinker by looking through the windshield and not the rear-view mirror.
How did your journey to the boardroom as a corporate director begin?
After departing Evergreen Investments in June of 2007 due to a corporate restructuring, I was evaluating my future professional options. I had experience working with nonprofit boards throughout my career and was actively involved with Evergreen’s board during my tenure as president of Evergreen Investments Services, so segueing into board work seemed like a good fit.
I immersed myself in learning how to “get board ready.” I researched the roles, responsibilities, and duties of directors. I met with and interviewed colleagues who were already on boards for an insider perspective, learning how they got started and gauging their likes and dislikes of board service to ensure I had realistic expectations.
I attended board training and development sessions to learn about how to become an effective director, further establishing my credibility, and increasing my qualifications as a candidate. I created a new resume and bio emphasizing the industry and functional experience that I would bring to a board and the skills that provided me with a uniquely valuable perspective. By joining Women Corporate Directors and the National Association of Corporate Directors, non-profits dedicated to advancing exemplary board leadership, I further enhanced my expertise and expanded my network.
Finally, I contacted executive search firms that had a board practice, met with executives from service providers such as accounting and law firms that catered to boards, and reached out to friends and former colleagues on LinkedIn to let them know of my interest to serve on private or public company boards.
How did you get connected to your first board seat?
The CEO, a former colleague, whom I had spoken with about my interest to serve on a board, gave my name to his firm’s nominating and governance committee. The nominating and governance committee had hired an executive search firm to facilitate the process. The search firm reviewed all the resumes and compared the candidate’s skills to the established desired director criteria. The search firm partner and the nominating and governance committee chair then narrowed the candidate pool and the search firm partner conducted telephone interviews with the leading candidates. Based on the interviews, the top few candidates were invited to an in-person interview with the entire nominating and governance committee. The finalists were then invited for an in-person interview with several members from the management team as well as a separate one-on-one interview with the chairman.
What steps did you take to prepare for the board interview process that benefited you most?
I researched the company online. Specifically, I reviewed the firm’s website including the firm’s history and company values, the profiles of the executive leadership team and the board of directors, the firm’s products and performance, and read their press releases and financial documents. I also read the most recent news announcements about the firm. I spoke with several director friends that were already on boards to learn about what to expect during the interview process and potential questions to ask. Finally, I developed a written list of questions I thought they’d ask me and prepared responses as well as created a list of some questions I wanted to ask them about the firm and the board’s culture.
How long did it take you to get your first corporate board seat after you started devoting time to the process?
I secured my first for-pay board position almost exactly three years after actively beginning my board search.
What characteristic or behavior did you exhibit that you believe was a critical factor in your successful candidacy for your first board appointment?
I had relevant industry experience, specific subject matter expertise, strong financial acumen, a proven track record of success as an accomplished senior operating executive and dynamic leader, excellent communication and interpersonal skills, and had demonstrated high ethical standards and integrity in both my professional and personal life.
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 reading all the material at least twice and based on that material, I developed a short list of critical issues I felt warranted additional discussion. I also reminded myself that becoming a director is like joining a dinner table after it’s already set so I needed to make sure I “fit” by choosing my topics, input and questions sparingly.
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 was surprised and disappointed that most boards are still not very diverse as I was typically the only woman on the board.
Help, hindrance or both – how does board service complement your professional career?
While I started my for-profit board journey after I retired, I firmly believe it would have helped my professional career. Meeting, observing, interacting, and learning from executive management and directors from another company would have enhanced my leadership style, talent management and succession planning skills as well as sharpened my ability to apply strategy across all levels of the organization.
What is your favorite thing about being a board director? Least favorite thing?
My favorite things about board service are as follows: the intellectual satisfaction and stimulation, the opportunity to give back and share my experience and wisdom, meeting extremely interesting and talented people, camaraderie and working on a high-functioning and cohesive team, the ability to influence the success of a corporation on behalf of shareholders, and a chance to be a role model for other women.
My least favorite thing about board service is traveling to and from the board meetings.
How do you feel you are making a difference as a board member?
I feel I am making a difference as a board member because I am candid and trustworthy and willing to challenge another’s assumptions and beliefs, as well as actively engage and debate with each other and senior managers on the critical issues facing the company.
What one thing do you wish you knew before you started your board journey?
While I was still working, I wish I actively enrolled my CEO in my board search process as well as gained access and visibility with the firm’s board of directors.
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?
Do not wait to begin searching for a board seat until after you retire. You should start the board networking and search process while you are still a senior operating executive and remember to inform your firm’s CEO/president of your interest in serving on a board and ask for their help in the process.
What is your favorite leadership quote that has inspired you on this journey? – this could be your own personal mantra!
“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment” – Jim Rohn
Maryann Bruce is an independent director of public and private companies, respected C-Suite advisor and keynote speaker, and former accomplished senior operating executive of two Fortune 100 firms. An expert in the financial services industry, Maryann has more than 30 years of experience in strategy, distribution and marketing.
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.
The opinions and experiences expressed by the interviewees do not necessarily reflect those of Women in the Boardroom.