Getting a Seat at the Table - Page 2 of 3

Getting a Seat at the Table

by corporations seeking directors says Carl Brooks, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council.

As part of the initiative, training sessions are held for executives within three levels of a CEO post at a top 500 publicly traded company twice annually during the Executive Leadership Council’s Annual winter and spring membership meetings. A more accelerated training program is sponsored by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Both board certification processes provide advanced learning on all aspects of board service including parliamentary rules, understanding financials, board awareness, committee participation and functions, and strategic planning. “We do the gamut of training to make a person an effective board member,” Brooks says.

Paula Cholmondeley, a director on five corporate boards, attended the training sessions in order to strengthen her skill set and understand new board trends. “The education of board members has become more critical,” Cholmondeley imparts, attributing this change to corporate scandals such as those at Enron. Board members must now not only have experience but also a full understanding of governing policies and their responsibilities, which Cholmondeley says the education sessions have provided.

But Brooks emphasizes that the corporations and professional organizations must also become more engaged in increasing black representation. “There’s no void in expertise,” he says. “So it’s really going to be a matter of being more effective relative to nominating committees and more effective relating to CEOs, to ensure that they understand the value, the importance, and the fact that there is this tremendous resource available in properly trained [African Americans] for board participation.”

Brooks stresses that the complacency in the familiar corporate mantra “we just can’t find them,” is not acceptable. Search firms and board committees must go beyond their traditional personal networks for recruitment and delve into nontraditional networks such as nonprofit organizations, education, and the military.

To increase the visibility of potential African American board members, the ELC is also in partnership with the National Association of Corporate Directors, and works toward registering members on the association’s database — one of the primary sources companies use to seek eligible candidates in particular skill sets.

Says Brooks: “The strategy is to continue to focus on the identification of the senior African Americans in [the top 500 publicly traded] companies, to continue building an effective pipeline of young African Americans who can move to senior positions in corporate America, to ensure we minimize the likelihood of any derailments, and to begin to focus aggressively on wealth accumulation.”

The Stats

  • Of the 260 blacks who serve on the board of a top 500 publicly traded company, 78% are men and 22% women.
  • In 2003, all the top 100 companies had at least one white female director; 31 top 100 firms had a least one black female director.
  • Early board appointments were frequently obtained as a result of experience serving on regional and national nonprofit boards.

Joining ELC

  • Potential members are first nominated by two council members and interviewed. The group is currently recruiting senior black executives who are CEOs of top 500 publicly traded companies or direct reports to