CSO, NOW, Inc.
Independent Board Director, Hardwoods Distribution Inc. (HDI)
VIP Member, Women in the Boardroom
Advisory Board Member, Petroleum Equipment and Services Association (PESA)
Michelle’s keys to success:
- A good board is a collaborative team, where everyone is an A-player. Board members generally aren’t looking for a leader, they are looking for a teammate.
- Networking and research were key to identifying potential board seats and positioning myself as a viable candidate. More specifically, I focused my efforts on gaining a more thorough understanding of the inner workings of a board through research, and I networked with board members and financial community members to make them aware of my aspirations.
What made you decide that you wanted to become a corporate board member?
Serving on a corporate board presents many valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth, including the opportunity to be exposed to new perspectives and best practices, face new challenges and expand my network.
In addition, I am a huge proponent of diversity on boards. As a female executive, it is very important to me that I play an active role in driving change in this area. Leading through example is the best way I can do that.
Once you decided to work on getting onto a corporate board, what were some of the first things you did?
Although I have long been engaged with boards through my various roles in strategy and investor relations, networking and research were key to identifying potential board seats and positioning myself as a viable candidate. More specifically, I focused my efforts on gaining a more thorough understanding of the inner workings of a board through research, and I networked with board members and financial community members to make them aware of my aspirations. I also selectively joined organizations such as the local chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to expand my network and increase my visibility.
How many corporate boards did you interview for before landing your first seat at the table?
I interviewed for a total of three board seats, including the one on which I now sit. The first two, which were brought to me through a recruiting firm, were in industries outside of my area of expertise. However, I viewed the interview processes for these seats as excellent opportunities to practice and be prepared for when a board seat came along where I was a better fit from an industry perspective.
What steps did you take to prepare for the board interview process that benefited you most?
Leveraging what I learned through my research and networking, I was able to anticipate questions that I thought would be asked and prepare my answers. In addition, I researched each specific company by reading analyst reports and reviewing their transcripts and IR presentations from past earnings calls. I also tailored my elevator pitch and bio, which I had first drafted as part of a consulting firm-sponsored “board-ready” event.
How long did it take you to get your first corporate board seat after you started devoting time to the process?
Once I started proactively working to find the appropriate board seat, it took about six months.
What characteristic or behavior did you exhibit that you believe was a critical factor in your successful candidacy for your first board appointment?
The greatest success factor was my expertise in the areas in which they were interested, specifically my extensive M&A experience in North America, and my distribution experience. In addition, I believe that my approach to business and relationships, which is defined by my humility and patience, made me an attractive candidate.
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 committed to learning and understanding every detail about the company by studying everything that I could get my hands on. I put all the board documents in a binder and wrote out all of my questions on the pages, highlighting the areas where I needed further clarification. To further my education, I met with one of the other directors for breakfast and then we walked to the board meeting together. I also spoke with different mentors and contacts to get various views on what to expect.
Help, hindrance or both – how does board service complement your professional career?
Without a doubt, board service complements your professional career a tremendous amount. Learning how different companies in different industries — but with some similar characteristics — approach problems and solutions, allows me to offer my own company a deeper and broader perspective when facing a challenge.
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? This could be from your personal experience, or perhaps advice that you’ve received and found to be true from someone within your network or at large.
One of the best pieces of advice that I have heard is to “not be a know it all.” A good board is a collaborative team, where everyone is an A-player. Board members generally aren’t looking for a leader, they are looking for a teammate. I know one individual who has interviewed with numerous boards and has never been asked to a second interview. I would venture to say it is because they are not approaching the opportunities with humility and a team-first attitude.
What is your favorite quote that inspires you?
“To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Michelle is a global chief strategy officer, board member and c-suite advisor with a broad range of experience in strategy, corporate development, investor relations and technology for start-ups, IPOs and mature, multi-billion-dollar public companies in the supply chain and distribution segment. She has built businesses from the ground up and also has successfully turned around several faltering businesses. Michelle has established a track record for accelerating growth, both organically and through M&A, having successfully closed $7 billion in cross-border public and private transactions from the Texas panhandle to Atyrau, Kazakhstan. In addition to her current roles as Chief Strategy Officer for NOW Inc. and Independent Director for Hardwoods Distribution Inc., she serves on the advisory board for the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association (PESA).
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.