09/28/2020 | by

A panel at Nareit’s REITworks: 2020 Virtual Conference held Sept. 21-22 discussed how attendees can best position themselves to be seated on a public board.

The panel, moderated by Bill Ferguson, chairman & CEO, Ferguson Partners, Ltd., discussed what type of skills most boards are looking for today, the typical age and experience of a board member, and the kinds of experience boards are looking for in potential members. Panelists included:

  • Kenneth Bacon, board member, Welltower Inc. (NYSE: WELL) ; board member, Arbor Realty Trust (NYSE ABR); managing partner, RailField Partners
  • Monica Digilio, board member, Sunstone Hotel Investors (NYSE: SHO); EVP & CHRO, Ceasars Entertainment Corp.
  • Mary Hogan Preusse, founder & principal, Sturgis Partners LLC

When asked about how to go about getting their first board seat, Preusse said that attendees should try to have as much exposure to the board at their company as possible. “Think about getting more exposure to your company’s board as a career goal for yourself.”

Prior board experience is also an important factor. “One really annoying piece of advice you will get during the process, which is unfortunately true, is that the best way to get a board seat is to have a board seat,” said Preusse.

One recommendation the panel had for getting that experience was serving on volunteer advisory boards for nonprofits or universities. Digilio spoke of the benefits she experiences serving on a hospitality entrepreneurship advisory board at Cornell University.

“Besides the fact that it has been fulfilling work, the contacts I made there I would never have met had I not joined that advisory board,” said Digilio. “It’s a great marriage when it is something that you are passionate about, and it offers you industry connections.”

However, prior board experience is not always a requirement in securing a board seat. Bacon said he secured his first board seat through deep, personal relationships. “I had no experience with my first board’s business, which was cable,” said Bacon. He made board contacts through civic engagements, volunteering at museums, working with his city’s mayor on affordable housing, etc.

Bacon also believes that attendees should start planning for board services earlier than they might think necessary. “Most people don’t start to think about it until their 50s, but I don’t think it is too soon to start thinking about board service as your future plan in your 40s,” said Bacon. “Boards are starting to look for younger members.”

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