Retired Chief Financial Officer, Stream
Non-Executive Board Chair, Stream
Audit Chair, The Freeman Company and WatchGuard Video
Board Member and Former Audit Chair, Eastman Chemical Company
Chair Emeritus, North Texas Chapter of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD)
Renee’s keys to success:
Once you decided to work on getting onto a corporate board, what were some of the first things you did?
While I wasn’t specifically working to get on a board I knew it was important for my career to build a brand that was beyond just being a CFO. I established myself as an expert in mergers and acquisitions and strategy. I became a lean six-sigma greenbelt and took on public speaking opportunities. I built my network of people that I could go to for advice and also became a mentor for other professionals looking to advance their careers.
How did you get connected to your first board seat?
My first board came to me through an executive search firm. Initially I checked the boxes that were in the spec. I was a public company CFO and a female. However, because I had built my brand I was identified also for my strategy and mergers and acquisitions expertise. My other boards have come through referrals. In one case it was a CFO that I had given career advice to, in another it was a lawyer whose firm I had used and another was through my professional organizations.
How many corporate boards did you interview for before landing your first seat at the table?
I was interviewing for two opportunities but really connected with the CEO and board members at the one I took. The timeframe was about 6 months.
What steps did you take to prepare for the board interview process that benefited you most?
I studied all of the publicly available information on the company and their competitors. I researched the board members and their companies. I read up on the industry including reports from consulting firms. I also toured one of their facilities. Most importantly I developed a list of questions that I gleaned from my research that demonstrated my skills in strategy, analysis and critical thinking.
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 read all of the materials and also read between the lines to develop some good questions. I reviewed the backgrounds of the other directors and information on their companies. I also researched current competitor news. The preparation really paid off because I learned about a potential issue and, having experienced something similar, I was able to formulate some suggestions and make contributions at my first meeting.
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?
The reality today is that directors come prepared and are engaged. Earlier in my career I observed boards that were rubber stamps and not universally prepared or engaged. I have found that today everyone really wants to do the best for the company.
How do you feel you are making a difference as a board member?
I feel I am making a difference when I ask questions that influence a decision or direction, when I share practices that can be adopted and, when through my leadership, I see results that have advanced the company. When I get selected to chair a committee or the board, that is an affirmation of my leadership and contributions.
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 personal experience, advice you’ve received and found to be true, or otherwise.
Build your brand to be broader than just your job. Get and highlight other experiences. Many boards have limited positions so it is helpful to demonstrate that you can check more than just one skills box. Know what value you bring to a board and be able to communicate it.
What is your favorite quote that inspires you?
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” –Douglas MacArthur
Renee Hornbaker is a dynamic global leader who utilizes creativity and leadership to design and execute solutions that grow and shape companies and build shareholder value. A strategic visionary with a clear sense of purpose and urgency when faced with diverse situational challenges during periods of both declining sales and rapid growth. Successful at building high-performing teams and leading demanding industrial, technology, retail and service organizations. Proven leader with integrity and persuasive ability who energizes teams to achieve exceptional results across a variety of organizations. Board member and (retired) CFO.
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.