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Leaders share boardroom stories at NEW Forum

Thursday, July 31, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Four women who have gone where few other women have gone before — the boardroom — shared their personal career stories and insights with 300 industry leaders at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 31, 2014 at Terranea Resort outside Los Angeles.

Board veterans Angela Braly, founder of The Braly Group; Janet E. Grove, retired corporate vice chairman for Macy’s Inc.; Michele G. Buck, president, North America for The Hershey Company; and Susan J. Kropf, retired chief operating officer for Avon Products, offer their insights during "The Power of a Great Board: How to Leverage and Engage.” Betsy D. Holden, senior advisor for McKinsey & Co. and a Diageo board member, moderated the discussion.

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Although boards spend just 10 percent of their time on talent, they "need to understand the talent management of the whole organization,” said Braly, a Procter & Gamble board member.

"Really effective boards get to know management,” added Kropf, who sits on the board of The Kroger Co. "It’s incumbent on board members to reach out, relate to them, get to know where they’re coming from and what their aspirations are.”

One of the most effective tasks a board can accomplish is to ask probing questions, said Buck, a board director at New York Life. "Some of the greatest value a board brings is diversity of perspective.”

Board service is not for everyone, but leaders exercising due diligence and commitment to service will find it rewarding. Braly said she believes in gauging necessary servant leadership skills with a "21-day rule. If you’re having a tough time, commit to 21 days — 21 days makes a habit — of going to work and serving others. ‘21 days’ will advance your career in a big way.”

While many career-minded women think "they are going to be automatically recognized, that’s not necessarily the case,” said Grove, a Safeway Inc. board member. "You have to put yourself out there,” which might include letting an HR executive know of your accomplishments and goals on the way to senior leadership and board candidacy.

To advance a career, build relationships with current Board members, Buck advised. "You must be confident. The board is looking for a confident leader. But don’t be too confident, or in a ‘selling’ mode. Some people think success is only knowing answers — but the board will think, ‘she’s not listening to me.’”

Getting women on board

Female board members can do more to open doors for other women interested in board service, the panelist agreed. "A big part of it is getting the board to know the individuals,” Grove said. "Getting on a nominating committee opens conversations with other board members as well as the CEO.”

Kropf, reflecting on her board service for Coach Inc., MeadWestvaco Corp., The Sherwin-Williams Co. and The Wallace Foundation, said the first board position is the hardest to gain. "Wherever you’re located, get board experience of some kind. Sit in on your company’s board meetings, join local boards in your community. Try to get on a couple of not-for-profit boards and network with those board members. Start small, build out.”

"You can do a lot more than you think you can,” Grove added. "As hard as you work, as much as you want, you should talk about that — for your company and for yourself. Make sure people know who you are and what you stand for.”

Angela Braly, Michele Buck, Betsy Holden, Janet Grove and Susan Kropf shared
their experiences as female board directors.

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