Board Appointments; Practical advice for finding and gaining a non executive director board appointment
by David Schwarz

ISBN: n/a Published: Australia, 2015
Reviewed by: Julie Garland McLellan*

There have been a few publications promising advice and assistance for aspiring directors in recent years. This one has one of my favourite words in the subtitle: “Practical”. It promises, literally, practical advice in finding and gaining a board seat.

So – how does it live up to that promise? Reasonably well.

The book is mercifully brief. No amount of reading books is going to land anyone a board seat. It takes application of the advice within the books to the real-world situation of the reader and, usually, also a modicum of persistence and ability. This book is upfront about the fact that opportunities to take up suitable board positions come along fairly infrequently and not always at convenient moments. It advocates being thoroughly prepared to take full advantage of the opportunities that do arise and also suggests some action s to enhance the number of opportunities and the likelihood of successful appointment.

The book has a few key messages:

  • Don’t overestimate your abilities or aim for boards where you do not have a clear value proposition
  • Prepare thoroughly and be ready for intense competition
  • Build your networks and take aim early.

The book includes a sizable section on writing a board-ready CV and even gives a template for laying out your own experience in the suggested manner. This is followed by a sobering review of the appointment process and all the potential pitfalls. A section on working through search consultants (aka recruiters or head-hunters) and on developing personal introductions follows with some actionable recommendations that have helped me in the past and that should, by extension, assist other aspiring directors.

The section on approaching boards directly is good, albeit a little short given that this is an area where most directors feel hesitant.

The interview section gives good advice and the list of potential questions will prove helpful to readers who are not accustomed to searches at this level. These sections are followed by suggested content for a letter of appointment. It would have been nice to see some suggested wording for a graceful ‘thanks but no thanks’ to use when declining a position; hopefully without burning bridges for any subsequent appointment processes. The sad fact is that most offers are not acceptable and should be politely declined. A format for opening dialogue when your application has been unsuccessful would also be helpful; it is important to build networks and keep options open.

The book is self-published. I have spoken to several publishers about the topic and all feel that there is not enough market to justify publishing a guide. I disagree. There are many aspiring and continuing directors who would appreciate the advice contained in this book. At present most of the authors in this space are also consulting to assist candidates for director roles to gain an edge in the process. This book follows that form yet is admirably restrained in its sales pitch and designed as a stand-alone work rather than an introduction to, or component of, a consulting process.

The book would have benefitted immensely from a thorough edit to remove the errors in syntax and grammar. It is a valuable addition to the arsenal of aspiring directors and well worth the effort of reading. The layout and construction are logical which gives a good flow for those who want to simply read from start to finish and also allows easy reference for other readers who wish to consult it from time to time as recruitment processes proceed.

Did it meet my expectations? Yes. Would it help you? Quite likely. But only if, as well as reading it, you put the advice into practice.

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* Julie Garland McLellan is a professional non-executive director, board and governance consultant and mentor. She is the author of   "Dilemmas, Dilemmas: Practical Case Studies for Company Directors",   Dilemmas, Dilemmas II: More Practical Case Studies for Company Directors (Volume 2),   "The Director's Dilemma",   "Presenting to Boards",   "All Above Board: Great Governance for the Government Sector" and numerous articles on corporate strategy and governance.