Thursday, 14 January 2010

Building a Good Board

Putting together the right Board of Directors for your company is an important but frequently postponed task when you are trying to scale up your company.

But if you have received an investment from a venture capital fund chances are you will need to put together a decent Board sooner rather than later if for no other reason than because it is a requirement in the investor agreement.

While there is no one definition of a good Board or a high quality Board member, in general what you need are a set of people who have high levels of integrity and commitment and who collectively bring to the table enough of the right kind of experience in business, finance, corporate governance, marketing and other relevant areas.

Boards can add real value. Many early or mid stage Indian entrepreneurs have a black and white view of a Board – either it should be totally pliable and simply sign off on what the promoter wants or else it will become a pain in the butt putting up obstacles along the way. Therefore they are cagey about Board expansion, restricting it only to family members and very close associates. The right Board however adds value in several ways – it brings together the collective wisdom and networks of a number of very good people leading to better governance of the company and hopefully better strategic choices being made. So seek out and appoint high quality Directors who are genuinely independent.

Appoint Board members carefully. It can be awkward to ask someone to step off your Board. Therefore a wrong appointment can create serious difficulties given the influence a Director wields in the company. Also no really good Director would wish to serve on the Board of a company which has one or two poor quality people. So recruit a Board member carefully – even if it takes more time than you had anticipated. Get to know him or her really well and do a thorough reference check before taking the decision. And set the bar high.

Don’t appoint a Director for name value alone. This is a trap that entrepreneurs in India often fall into. They go after big names assuming that this will add credibility to the company. While that is true, well known people usually have many demands on their time. Also they often have a halo around them which makes their reputation larger than life – their real ability to contribute may be a little less than your expectations. You need Directors who will be able to give you time and mindspace when you need them.

Do it at the right time – not too early and not too late. Putting together a good Board is something you will need to do at some point of time as you grow your company. It is important to do it at the right time. If you do it too early you will end up spending too much of your time managing the Board and too little building the business. If you leave it till too late you may have ended up building the wrong kind of company.

Invest time in working with the Board. Managing a Board and working with it does take time and it consumes your bandwidth. Any Board member worth his salt expects to be given an opportunity to contribute and that’s good for the company. What it means is that you will have to spend time engaging with Board members both during and outside Board meetings.

Choose the right mix of skills and experience. You need to get people with the right blend of diverse skills and experiences onto your board. At Naukri we got onto the Board people who collectively had experience in marketing, sales, engineering, product, venture investing and finance. At least two have been entrepreneurs in the past and have built companies. Several are independent directors in companies that are bigger and perhaps better than ours. Two have over thirty years experience of different kinds.

The chemistry must be right. It is important that you get along with your Board members and that you feel comfortable enough to level with them especially when there is bad news to give. At the same time they must not be your buddies or your cronies.

Remember a good Board is your ally and not someone whose only job is to police you. Often your Board of Directors can save you from yourself.


Pankaj K said...

This is really good article and as a partner in one firm I think these steps are really necessary for good healthy partnership.

Thanks for the good post.

ReeshReeni said...

Would be interesting to know, how you chose your Board.