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Take Technology Experience to the Boardroom

CIOs and technology leaders have the experience and knowledge to make key board members, according to Gartner.
Catherine Pyle
Contributing Writer

As technology shifts to a central role for many enterprises, CIOs will play an important part in all aspects of the business, including the board of directors. A recent McKinsey study found that the pandemic accelerated seven years of digital transformation into one, and this focus on increased digitalization of the business is not going away. Boards of directors are taking notice and looking to technology-savvy members to guide the enterprise.

Why do boards want CIOs?

Historically, boards of directors have focused on risk, cost, and revenue. With the rise of cybercrime, the increasing centralization of technology in the enterprise, and the emerging post-pandemic landscape, the role of the board is increasingly complex. Boards recognize the importance of a digitally mature organization, and the first step to that is a digitally mature board.

According to Gartner Distinguished VP Analyst Tina Nunno, the 25 Fortune 500 companies with a CIO or CTO on their board have annual returns 6% higher than the industry average. As more organizations seek to elevate their returns, boards will seek out technology leaders to fill their open seats.

In her presentation at October’s Gartner IT Symposium, Nunno outlined key steps to finding a board seat, but not before highlighting one key point.

“Timing matters,” she said. “The biggest mistake most executives make is waiting too close to retirement to start their search.” The right moment will look different for everyone, but boards are looking for sitting executives with five to ten years of experience and significant experience contributing to shareholder value.

How to get on a board

Deciding why you want to be on a board is the first step. As obvious as this seems, it is a for-real interview question, said Nunno. Boards want to invest in their members, and a clear answer can go a long way in demonstrating your willingness and commitment to a board during the interview process.

“Board members have such incredible influence over so many aspects of businesses, society, and culture,” said Nunno. If you’re looking to make a difference in the world, a board seat is a good place to start.

Determining the type of board is the next step. Each type—private, start-up, public, family-owned, not-for-profit—has its own benefits and challenges. Board membership is a long-term commitment, and it is vital to ensure that you will be passionate about your work as a board member.

Enterprises are always looking to innovate within their industry, and industry experience can be a considerable factor during the matching process. Above all, finding a board whose work you are passionate about is most important, said Nunno.

Getting your name out there

After answering all of these questions, put together a stellar CV. Provide specific examples of situations where you have provided shareholder value, worked collaboratively with others, and given advice, Nunno suggests. As a technology executive, highlight your experience with cybersecurity risk issues. According to Nunno, cybersecurity risk discussions on boards increase with a technology leader as a member.

Building a personal brand can benefit board seat seekers immensely.

“Remember, everyone is going to Google you,” said Nunno.

When actively searching for a board seat, Nunno recommended a “push and pull” method to networking. Push by using your network, board associations, and headhunting firms, and pull by making the most of opportunities that come to you.

“Most board members will tell you that 80% of board positions are found through networking,” said Nunno. By working your network and spreading the word that you are looking for a board seat, opportunities will come to you. Nunno also suggested utilizing your personal brand by presenting at conferences or in front of a board to “pull” opportunities to you.

Nunno’s final advice to board hopefuls was to “begin as you mean to end.” She emphasized choosing your first board position wisely and not accepting one simply because it was offered.  

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