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  • May 20, 2024 2:50 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    By Jonathan Peri, Ph.D., J.D., President of Manor College and Lisa Quateman, CEO of Voyager Advisory LLC and Board Director for public, private, and non-profit organizations.

    As companies strive to bring varied voices into their corporate boardrooms, new sources of talent have emerged in recent years, from, for example, industry specialists to military leaders.  A rich source of talent exists among leaders in academia, where, contrary to assumptions about academics in so-called ivory towers, we find that many college and university leaders bring superb business experience and innovation into the boardrooms that they serve.

    In addition to their traditional roles and NGO engagements, college and university presidents increasingly serve on corporate boards, both public and private.  They are selected for these positions because their experiences and skills encompass significant depth in the business of education, much of which is transferable to other industries.

    Higher education has a lot of moving parts, fundraising, recruitment (sales), facilities, finance and investments, marketing, education as a product and service (think university hospitals and research universities), student services, information technology, human resources, diversity, equity, and inclusion, employees with multi-faceted functions, and a governance structure that intentionally shares power and places a focus on environmental, social, and governance issues.  Presidents sit atop at least seven or eight operations, even at the smallest institutions.

    As board leaders, here’s why higher education presidents get selected as directors:

    Strategic Vision & Leadership: University presidents excel in developing, implementing, and leading strategic plans. Living within a shared governance model, Presidents are consensus builders inside and outside of the strategic planning context.   They negotiate the best pathways forward emerging from a diversity of ideas, balancing the concepts developed by lifetime organizational employees with the fresh eyes of new recruits.  These attributes help corporate boards facing dynamic markets and demanding stakeholders, including vocal workforces.

    Financial Acumen: Responsible for significant budgets and major fundraising efforts, university presidents have a deep understanding of financial analysis, resource allocation, and investment management. This fiscal expertise is invaluable for companies seeking board members with the ability to assess financial health, guide investment strategies, and navigate complex financial decisions.

    Governance & Risk Management: University presidents are well-versed in the principles of good governance. National and statewide associations regularly provide presidents with cutting edge professional development.  Presidents oversee intricate board structures and navigate compliance regulations while balancing competing interests within their own institutions. This experience enables them to advise on board effectiveness, mitigate risk, and protect the organization's reputation.  This tends to be particularly true when the president is also an attorney or accountant, as is increasingly the case in higher ed.

    Crisis Management: As we have seen in the media recently, leading educational institutions involves dealing with unforeseen challenges and public scrutiny, much of which reflects broader geo-political issues The wisdom gained from these experiences is transferrable and these experiences cultivate the composure needed for corporate boards facing difficult situations. College and university presidents are typically adept at thoughtful decision-making under pressure and communicating effectively to restore trust.

    Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Expertise: Presidents often champion DEI initiatives, overseeing policy development that shapes organizational culture. Most corporations now embrace DEI as a core value, though others have trepidation. College presidents are used to spirited discussions and moving adversarial scenarios to dialogues of “creative friction,” where workable, realistic outcomes are an outgrowth of voices being heard.

    Community & Stakeholder Engagement: Successful presidents excel at collaboration with diverse stakeholders, including not only traditional on-campus groups, but also government officials and local communities.  They have developed excellent communications skills. This experience translates seamlessly to corporate boards who regularly interact with investors, employees, customers, regulators, and the wider community.  This talent also supports development of senior managers who are interfacing with these parties as well as company lenders and service providers.  These board members offer a valuable sounding board and mentorship opportunities to internal leaders.

    Global Outlook: Many universities have international partnerships, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Presidents pride themselves on being not only well apprised of global affairs, but actively engaged in them, often as a voice of reason and conscientious direction. Presidents gain sensitivity to global trends and cross-cultural communication, an asset in today's interconnected business world.

    Keenness with Emerging Trends: Familiarity with university level leading-edge research keeps presidents at the forefront of technological, social, and economic opportunities. These insights can help boards stay ahead of disruptions and identify innovative pathways.  To succeed in their careers, presidents must demonstrate curiosity and a commitment to lifelong learning, which make them ideal role models in boardrooms and at the companies they serve.

    Network: Due to their many skills and attributes noted above, plus the job requirement of being relationship-oriented, presidents have significant social networks, with access to others who can serve as helpful partners and community builders.  When doors open, corporations thrive, and shareholders and stakeholders with them.

    In summary, college and university presidents offer astuteness, esteem, experience and knowledge that enhances a corporate board’s outcomes. Their leadership skills, financial expertise, connections, commitment to inclusivity, and their ability to manage complex environments make them ideal board members.


    Dr. Jonathan Peri is the President of Manor College, a liberal arts institution in the Philadelphia metro region.  He is a “double doctor” Ph.D. in organizational leadership and J.D. / attorney.  He has served on several boards including as Chairman of Pennsylvania’s Council of Higher Education on its State Board of Education, as Lead Advisory Director for First State Bank of Texas, as a Member of Pennsylvania’s 529 College Savings TAP Board (investments at the time were $6.8B and continue to grow), and on numerous nonprofit boards. He is board certified by CEO Trust’s Board Trust.

    Lisa Quateman currently serves on the boards of directors of AG Mortgage Investment Trust [NYSE: MITT], ITR Concession Company LLC, Lyles Diversified, Inc., NACD Pacific Southwest Chapter, and on the Advisory Boards of Scherzer International Corporation and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.  She is CEO Trust board faculty. She is a retired financial services attorney with extensive governance experience honed over many years representing public and private companies, financial institutions, and government entities, and serving on numerous boards of directors, including the UCLA Alumni Association.  She is based in the Los Angeles area and holds B.A. and J.D. degrees from the University of California at Los Angeles.
  • July 07, 2023 12:03 AM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    Bryan Mattimore's whiteboard technique described in his latest article in Innovation Management is a fun and productive way to encourage innovation and make the "suggestion box" both real and transparent. 

    By Bryan Mattimore

    “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”
    Albert Einstein

    If you’ve ever had an experience with a suggestion box program – either running one, or more likely submitting a suggestion – the mere suggestion of having a suggestion box program at your organization might send your head spinning – and not in a good way.
    Truth is, with rare exceptions like Toyota, Frito-Lay and Dart industries, traditional suggestion box programs are – and continue to be — one of the most dismal failures in business.
    How come? Suggestion box programs do not fail because of a lack of initial employee interest or enthusiasm. They fail because the process for managing, vetting, and developing submitted ideas isn’t as rigorous – or creative – as it needs to be.
    Most ideas are like newborn babies – cute yes (no ugly babies here), but not able to do a whole lot more than smile, cry and poop when they’re first born. They need constant care and feeding if they are to survive, much less thrive, and reach their full potential. In the world of ideas, this “care and feeding” comes in the form of team idea building and development, rapid prototyping, and testing. Suggestion box programs simply don’t allow for the further development of ideas.

    Another shortcoming of most suggestion box programs is that submitted ideas – and that means all ideas regardless of their inherent merit – need to be taken seriously. Employees need to know that the time they spent thinking about ideas to improve the business wasn’t a waste of time, even if their ideas didn’t ultimately make the cut. Otherwise, employees will become cynical of the process, and the number and quality of suggested ideas will decline precipitously.

    A simple way to overcome the shortcomings of suggestion box programs is by using a simple technique I call the Whiteboard Technique. Think of it as a kind of “interactive” suggestion box where ideas can easily and effectively be built on by others.
    The Whiteboard Technique… How to!
    Here are 9 simple steps for creating a whiteboard idea suggestion program.
    1) Post a whiteboard in a public area (conference room, hallway, or cafeteria). Or if you’re company is primarily virtual, a “whiteboard” can be posted on an internal, team, department or company-wide sharing program like Slack.
    2) In the center of the actual or virtual whiteboard write down a challenge for which you want some new ideas: i.e. “How do we do a better job serving our customers?” “How do we motivate a multi-generational workforce?” “How can we cut costs?” etc… Whatever could be a timely and important subject for which new ideas are needed. Consider using generative AI programs to help you generate a wide range of possible questions, both general and specific.
    3) To create a sense of urgency (and provide a means of closure for each challenge), set a timeline/deadline for each challenge: typically, seven to ten days… by writing the numbers 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 at the bottom of the whiteboard.
    4) “Prime the pump” by writing down some preliminary ideas and/or facts on the whiteboard. Again, AI programs like ChatGPT or Google’s Bard can help you here.
    5) Then encourage your co-workers to freely add their ideas over the seven days.
    6) Each succeeding day of the challenge cross out the corresponding number at the bottom of the whiteboard. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7
    7) At the end of the seven days, the challenge is over. A new challenge is then posted on a blank whiteboard, and the process is begun again.
    8) At the end of each challenge, summarize the ideas on the whiteboard for yourself and your co-workers to react to. And then… take some kind of action, to demonstrate to your co-workers that their posted ideas, and their effort put in in creating them, was valued.
    9) The action taken could include:
    a. identifying the winning ideas, along with their plans for further development, or
    b. using the ideas as thought-starting triggers for a group ideation session.

    That’s it. Very simple. But a powerful tool for turning “water-cooler time” into a vehicle for generating creative and original new content ideas.

    An interesting advantage that the Whiteboard Technique has over a traditional ideation session is the creative “soak time.” Time allows the wonderful pattern-finding, idea-combining power of the subconscious mind to work its magic, magic that anyone and everyone can and should be a part of… making unexpected – and sometimes profound — connections between seemingly unrelated fragments of ideas on the whiteboard.

    The Whiteboard Technique is a simple and efficient way to liberate organizational creativity. But don’t let its simplicity fool you. Many of our Fortune 500 clients, government organizations and non-profits have achieved extraordinary results with it. And as such, it has been a great vehicle for generating a wide variety of business-improving ideas… not to mention a great way to improving employee satisfaction – and happiness – at work, whether in-person or virtually.

    Bryan Mattimore is the Chief Idea Guy at Growth Engine, a 23-year-old innovation agency based in Stamford, CT. His six books on ideation and innovation processes include “21 Days to a Big Idea,” “Idea Stormers,” and the new AI-assisted book, “Quirks.” Bryan’s workshop, “AI Ideation and the Total Innovation Enterprise,” integrates the use of generative AI programs with empirically validated, group ideation techniques to help generate product and process improvement ideas across an entire organization. Bryan can be reached at:

  • July 02, 2023 5:07 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    As we celebrate our nation's birthday, I am grateful that, as CEOs in America, we have the opportunity to build businesses that create jobs, contribute to the economy, and make a difference in the world. We have freedom to innovate and take risks, and to pursue our dreams. We also have a heavy load of responsibility. I am grateful to my fellow CEOs in the CEO Trust that we share this journey together, and I appreciate you and the role you play. I am proud to see fellow CEO Trustees be successful, overcome obstacles, lead businesses with integrity and ethics, and give back to our communities and within the CEO Trust.

    I am grateful to be in the CEO Trust with many of this country's best CEOs and board directors. Happy Fourth of July!


  • January 23, 2022 2:18 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    Join us for CEO Trust's Navigating Private Equity - Webinar with Mike Lorelli on January 27th. In anticipation of that event here is a related article:

    By Michael K. Lorelli, CEO Trustee and upcoming webinar keynote

    Working with, or for, a private equity backed company, is the ‘new age’ of building your career success, and career credentials.

    In a now-famous, Wall Street Op-Ed piece on November 17th, 2017, they cited that the number of public companies with over $500 million in revenues, was cut in half, as a result of all the M&A over the recent decades. Many people thought this was a typo. It wasn’t. And every day that you pick up the WSJ, there is another one of those public companies, that was bought.

    Personally, we wish the article would have gone on to showcase that in that same timeframe, private equity has quietly exploded to the point where there are 18,000 private equity portfolio companies. That’s more than 4 times as many as public companies, and growing, not imploding. You don’t “see” that explosion, because the public company news is on Page A1of the Wall Street Journal. Private equity, is, sadly, covered on Page B4.

    Why is one sector shrinking, while the other sector is exploding? The answer is simple. Investors aren’t stupid. They place their bets on annual returns. The chart below speaks for itself. 

    So let’s presume that we may have increased your interest in placing your next career bet on building your experience in the private equity sector. In the public sector, there are the companies that do 150% of things right... Apple, Google, and the like. Similarly, the same is true in private equity. The chart below shows that Audax Group has risen to now be the largest private equity company in terms of activity (deals), with 87 companies in their portfolio. They are indeed, the ‘Warren Buffett- Berkshire Hathaway of private equity firms.

    Most Active P.E. Firms in the US

    1 Audax Group 87

    2 HarbourVest Partners 64

    3 Genstar Capital 58

    4 The Carlyle Group 45

    4 Shore Capital Partners 45

    4 ABRY Partners 45

    7 Kohlberg Kravis Roberts 42

    8 Insight Partners 41

    8 Summit Partners 41

    10 Harvest Partners 38 Source: PitchBook 2019 Rankings

    And Accent Foods is extremely pleased to have Audax as our ‘Parent.’ They are obviously dedicated to our success, and as such, they provide us a wealth of experience and resource that simply would not be available to us, on our own. And we enjoy the synergistic relationship that the senior leadership team has with them. It makes coming to work every day, not ‘coming to work’ at all. It’s thrilling. 

  • June 02, 2021 4:12 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    Really informative panel today facilitated by @Marc Hodak and @Randy Zeno, and featuring @Murtaza Ali, @Kurt Brykman and @RJ David, three PE company operating partners. Among them their businesses cover the range, from distressed assets to lower middle market to large enterprises.

    In spite of the diversity of their portfolios and investment theses, there were common themes that stood out:

    1. Significant change from the "old days" of PE where investors could generate returns by leveraging a high percentage of the asset's value to create more value.  Now all are focused on creating value by ensuring great talent is in place who can operate the business to generate real growth, and supporting the teams' success.

    2. Exit multiples are now lower than entry multiples -- a departure from past expectations.  In addition to focus on talent, this change in business model dynamics has led PE investors to focus with greater urgency on the value they can bring to their portfolio companies: They invest in capabilities that are important to their success, e.g., digital transformation, human capital, IT, government affairs, purchasing.

    3. All are putting some emphasis on ESG, but mainly to this point on ensuring progress on DE&I goals.

    For those who couldn't make it, look for information on the replay.

    Thanks to CEO Trust, Marc and the panelists for a great session.

    --written by Amy Radin, Board Director, Author, Transformation Expert

  • May 19, 2021 11:57 AM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    Leadership can be very lonely. It’s cliché, but it’s also true. For most CEOs, it comes down to having no real source of encouragement and appreciation for what they do, says bestselling author and Chief Executive columnist Patrick Lencioni. “What may be worse is that so many resort to doing what that old country music song says: looking for love in all the wrong places.”

    That’s why so many CEOs end up in trouble, writes Lencioni. Looking for praise from assistants, subordinates, customers, consultants, spouses or their board—none of which is really going to help. “Even the most involved spouse can’t adequately understand the depth of a CEO’s accomplishments and challenges without being part of the day-to-day activities of work. At best, they can be a sounding board or a sympathetic ear.”

    So, where should CEOs seek to escape loneliness? Lencioni’s contrarian answer will surprise many of you: your leadership team. “When CEOs build real, deep, vulnerability-based trust with team members and understand the different contexts of conversations they are having, they can get the support they need while maintaining the authority their role requires.

    “And even if it presents occasional problems and challenges along the way, it’s a far better tightrope to walk than trying to earn the approval and consent of a board chair or a lone sympathetic employee.”

    Importantly, the CEO Trust can be a fantastic resource to connect with peers and peer groups to propel each other ahead, and for a camaraderie to mitigate the loneliness. 

  • July 24, 2020 12:36 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    An article recommended by CEO Trustee Scott Siers. McKinsey Featured Insights: CEO LEADERSHIP FOR A NEW ERA. It explores four shifts in how CEOs lead. From what we've seen the fourth point is particularly valuable.

  • October 28, 2019 12:48 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    Written by CEO Trust Leader:

    The investment management firm Gerstein Fisher hosted the CEO Trust on October 23 for a market and economic discussion.  After a generous dinner, John Trezza introduced Chris Meeske, CIMA and Senior Portfolio strategist.  Chris provided a broad and insightful overview of market and economic developments.  A major theme was the contradictory signals the markets seem to be sending.  US large cap stocks have performed pretty well, if a bit choppy, indicating that equity investors have a positive outlook on the economy.  The fixed income market, which is much larger than the equity market, is sending a different signal.  The tendency to yield curve inversion, or at least flattening, indicates that fixed income investors see economic risk ahead.  And gold’s positive performance, unusual when equities are positive, indicate that some market participants are willing to pay up for safety.  Chris pointed out that not all these signals can be correct, but how it will resolve itself is impossible to predict and recommends broad diversification.

    The discussion was lively.  Reflecting the manufacturing interests of several CEO’s in the room, the topic of to where manufacturing will move from China dominated.  Pros and cons of India, Vietnam, Brazil, and other countries were discussed. 

    Thanks again to Gerstein Fisher. 

  • March 24, 2019 1:18 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    - written by Philadelphia member - Philadelphia Chapter CEO Trustees met on March 13th at Synovos in Radnor, PA for a roundtable business discussion.  We had a lively and engaging conversation on several business topics including leadership alignment, talent attraction and retention, on-going self-development and other top-of-mind topics. We also had an overview of Synovos business in the MRO supply space and some of the priorities for the team.  Overall, it was a very engaging discussion and an excellent networking event.

  • February 15, 2019 5:29 PM | Theresa Boyce (Administrator)

    Join us for CEO Trust's "Landing Board Seats" Webinar with Mike Lorelli on February 26th. In anticipation of that event here is a related article:

    By Michael K. Lorelli, CEO Trustee and upcoming webinar keynote

    There are 3,671 public companies with $500 million-plus in revenues in the United States—half the number as in 1996, according to a Nov. 17, 2017, Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. In contrast, private equity (PE) has quietly exploded, with an estimated 17,103 portfolio companies today, according to Private Equity Info. The vast majority of these companies have boards. But why? Public companies have little choice. Private companies have little obligation. Yet both company types typically have a working board of directors that meets regularly, sets agendas, and has committees.

    PE firms aren’t exactly known for their lack of IQ or a shortage of scrutiny on every dollar spent on general and administrative costs. While the value of having boards at PE-owned companies is largely anecdotal, insights from those who manage portfolio companies or have served as directors of such companies reveal the ways in which having a board can be critical to sustaining the success of a privately held company.

    Why the Hold Period Matters

    The average PE firm owns a portfolio company for 5.6 years, according to Private Equity Info, which makes for an environment operating at a breakneck pace. The PE firm’s agenda in a new investment typically kicks off with a comprehensive 100-day plan, providing a lightning start on a strategic plan that will also wring any excess spending out of the equation from the very first second of the hold period. Keep in mind, PE is driven by three measures:

    ■■ The internal rate of return or the net return earned by investors over a particular time.

    ■■ Cash-on-cash return.

    ■■ Hold period (less is more) or the length of time the PE firm owns a company.

    Two of these three measures are time-driven, hence the incredible speed inherent to PE firms. Tomorrow really means this afternoon. Next year means next week.

    “Putting a board in place and doing a GAAP audit are essential to our 100-day plans,” says Pamela B. Hendrickson, COO and vice chair of strategic initiatives at The Riverside Co. Hendrickson is a 13-year veteran of Riverside where she oversees a portfolio of 81 companies. “There’s no time to mess around in this high-multiple environment. You really need the growth plan pretty quickly. A good board will help you formulate as well as identify pitfalls.”

    What’s in It for the PE Firm

    “When you’re working with other people’s money—i.e., limited partners—you can’t run [the company] like a proprietorship. No one person has the answers,” says Allan Grafman, a former operating partner at Mercury Capital. “With a good board, we get to the destination faster, and usually with a smarter answer, with more of the right people rowing. I’ve never seen a portfolio company without a board.”

    “Various entities are formed to limit liability. A properly structured and run board can add to the shield,” says Robert S. Tucker, managing director at Capital Partners. “A board takes an interest on behalf of investors, lenders, and employees while others aren’t watching, caring about the interests of those who aren’t always there.”

    Hendrickson adds: “I can’t think of a time when we didn’t put a board in place. Even our Strategic Capital Fund, where we take minority interests, insists on a board where we (the investor) will have one director. Governance is so much of our focus. If proper governance is in place, everything else will follow.”

    The value of a board is underscored upon exit of the portfolio company, says Tucker. “Every PE firm obviously discounts the management projections by some number, based on the perceived quality of management and other factors,” he explains. “To the extent that there are tight practices, audits, key performance indicators, rigorous reporting, all decrease the discount. The lack of a board would result in a larger discount. Existence of a board with meeting minutes signals a higher level of professionalism.”

    Private Company Governance

    Hendrickson also believes that company valuations are influenced by the existence of a board. “Valuations are definitely more art than science. A seller doesn’t want the lack of a board to be one more thing the buyer believes he will have to fix. And on Riverside’s exit, one reason we get paid well is we’ve done these things right,” she says.

    The value boards bring to smaller companies is enormous. “Good outside directors will often see things the CEO misses and will ask provocative questions and push for alternate scenarios,” Hendrickson says. “For example, ‘Have you ever thought about...?’ and highlight potential pitfalls calling on their own experiences.”

    An informal survey of managing directors and operating partners suggests that the number of portfolio companies with boards is likely 85 to 90 percent. Said one fund manager: “Operating partners with investment banking backgrounds make crappy operators. You need outside directors who have been there, done that.”

    The surveyed managing directors agreed that there are compelling reasons to create a board, although the execution varies: larger private equity groups tend to have a more structured approach, while smaller private equity sponsors are more ad hoc. In both cases, the board model is the same. The model calls for one outside director with industry expertise and a second director with deep functional expertise in the area crucial to the portfolio company. One operating partner suggested what he called the “unanimous success formula” for private company board composition. The elements of this formula include:

    ■■ Having serial board members. They know how to zero in on the leverage points, participate efficiently, and lend a hand to the C-suite where appropriate.

    ■■ Laying out the 12-month rolling board meeting calendar in advance, complete with committee meetings.

    ■■ Supplementing the engagement with a monthly financial call so the board is always up to speed and engaged. This dispenses with lengthy financial reviews at board meetings.

    ■■ Keeping the financial review during in-person board meetings to 30 minutes.

    ■■ Creating a board agenda that strikes the right balance between strategy and tactics, knowing that a meaty strategic agenda will fully utilize the outside directors.

    ■■ Sending the board book to directors at least a full week in advance of the meeting.

    ■■ Having the CEO reach out informally to board members between meetings.

    ■■ Encouraging directors to lend a hand to some of the B players in management to help them better their odds of success.

    Capital Partners’ Tucker believes that larger private equity firms will all have boards. Only small, and perhaps fundless sponsors, might not have a formal board. Tucker also believes in smaller board sizes. “Typically, five or seven members [is best], and always an odd number,” he says. “The independent directors bring value with an outside perspective and an ability to challenge the inside thinking.”

    There may be pushback from a CEO who really doesn’t want other people in his or her sandbox. “Boards that are too energetic can get in the way,” observes Tucker. “But I haven’t seen management resistance, though there may be some grousing unbeknownst to us. And while SOX [the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002] is a public company regulation, tentacles of it nevertheless emanate to the private markets.”

    What’s in It for Directors

    If you’re being checked out for a portfolio company board role, one of your first questions should be where the company is in the PE firm’s hold period. If the firm is just buying the company, great— everything should be going well unless this was a distress sale (and you’ve already climbed onto the fire truck). Otherwise, you’ve got five years to hopefully gain some stock-option appreciation. If there are fewer than four years left in the average hold period, the runway for your options is obviously shorter. And no living pilot would think to take off from halfway down the runway.

    “We’re careful in the selection process,” Hendrickson says. “A small company board is a lot of work, and that makes the process mutually self-selective. The better outside directors get asked back again, and all are invited to our annual Riverside University two-day offsite,” which, she adds, is both “an educational experience and a perk.”

    Unlike public companies, private companies tend to start with just two of the usual board committees: audit and compensation. There is no burning need for a nominating and governance committee since, given the shorter runway, there is not a lot of time devoted to CEO succession. With a typical hold period of 5.6 years, CEOs aren’t given the benefit of the doubt very long. One private equity CEO remarked that he felt his tenure was like “the half-life of uranium.”

    Directors are likely to be involved in the full bandwidth of the agenda, considerably more than in a public board environment. And since the board is smaller than at a public company—typically comprised of the CEO, two directors from the private equity firm, and two or three outside directors—the atmosphere and interaction between board members and management will be a lot more intimate. Hendrickson demands that “outside directors be active, provide insight and direction, and ask hard questions.” The hidden value of the board, she says, may be that “the operating rhythm of a company is in large part set by the board meetings. It forces discipline.”

    Again, brace yourself for the rocket launch provided by the PE firm’s 100-day plan. While the work falls squarely on the management team, the board is close enough to the action to be watching and feeling the artillery fire.

    The 100-day plan is actually the first strategic exercise,” says Mark A. Pfister, CEO of Pfister Strategy Group and author of Across the Board: The Modern Architecture Behind an Effective Board of Directors (M.A. Pfister Strategy Group, 2018). “Boards with extensive strategic planning experience have historically out-performed those lacking this important discipline.”

    A new strategic plan is typically in order, and the PE firm will book an offsite with the management team and board, usually with an experienced strategy-work facilitator. The opportunity and expectation should be for outside directors to add their personal value—knowledge of the category, high-level introductions, experience with companies in similar stages of growth, and the like. Talk to the PE firm in advance, and gain insight as to their expectations for the session—and plan to earn your keep.

    A PE firm is likely to have piled on a hefty portion of debt, so “covenant watch” is an integral part of the board’s responsibility. It’s easy to scrape close to the guardrails when you’re speeding along at 160 miles per hour, so management should provide the board with a rolling eight-quarter covenant projection model. That way, the company is in a position to alert the lender months in advance and hopefully remain on the forward side of credibility.

    Outside directors often serve a double role—vetting board or management candidates, and conversely selling those candidates on the opportunity. Enthusiasm is contagious—and appreciated. Another valuable role played by the outside director is that of a confidant and sounding board to the CEO. After all, it is lonely at the top, and even the CEO needs someone to confide in and, occasionally, vent frustrations. It’s better to do that with a director than with subordinates. The best outside directors I have had in my four CEO roles were those who offered an ear to me, and in my years as a director, I’ve returned the same courtesy that was thoughtfully given to me.

    Blink twice and, a couple of board meetings later, the target setting for the next year’s operating plan will begin. It may feel like the final approach, but these budget-setting conversations can be testy, given that potential bonus dollars will be on the table.

    And so the cycle continues. With one additional nuance: it’s never too early to be thinking about the exit. In truth, it actually began before the acquisition closed.

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