"The Master value is trust. There are no relationships that can survive for very long without it."

- Jim Amos

Why Every Company Should Have a Board of Directors

March 20th, 2013

Tap into the collective wisdom of trusted advisors to help your company grow, whether it’s big or small

One of the most invigorating things about the business world is the opportunity to surround yourself with smart, driven, creative people — the kinds of people willing to throw immense energy into delivering new products and services that make life better for everyone.

As a former CEO of several companies, I’ve had a chance to lead teams of executives who used their expertise and dedication to build brands like UPS, I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt and Tasti D-Lite. The teams I’ve built have played a huge role in my success. But as a leader, it’s also important to have wise counsel — someone who can look at your business from a slight distance and give objective advice about your performance and direction. That’s why I believe all companies should have a board of directors.

A well-chosen board offers both guidance and resources — giving management access to a wealth of skills, experience and connections. If your company is weak in a particular area, whether it’s marketing or training or development or operations, it makes sense to seek out a board member who is very strong in that area. If your company is looking to expand into a new market, seek out someone who has experience navigating that path.

The role of boards has evolved over the years. A common misconception is that boards function as little more than a good ol’ boys network. That’s never been my experience, but I will note that today’s boards are more likely to play an active role in setting the direction of the companies they oversee, directing strategy — and sometimes even specific tactics — to help achieve goals. It’s not uncommon for a board member to emerge as a thought leader and to eventually be tapped as CEO of a company they have been guiding.

Of course, the challenges that board members confront help build bonds, so there is certainly a social aspect to serving on a board of directors. The trust and respect you build can make for lifelong friendships. One of my great friendships, with Proctor and Gamble’s Nathan Estruth, developed thanks to our work together as part of P&G’s Agile Pursuits franchising initiative.

My career has afforded me the opportunity to serve on several boards and to listen to the perspectives of hundreds of leaders. I have served on or am serving on the board of directors for The National Veteran’s Administration, The Marine Military Academy, The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, Meineke Car Care Centers, Oreck Corporation, Zig Ziglar Corporation, WSI of Canada, The University of Missouri, The HealthStore Foundation, SkinPhD and Ken Blanchard’s Faith Walk Leadership Foundation. I have also served as chair of the International Franchise Association and Proctor and Gamble’s Agile Pursuits Franchising Inc.

I’ve gotten to see companies confront the same challenges again and again, often depending on what’s going on in the economy or with adapting to new technologies. It’s amazing how often the challenges of business boil down to the same underlying issues of managing egos and interdepartmental communication. One of the things I feel fortunate about as a board member is that, after more than 30 years in leadership, it’s rare to confront a situation that I haven’t already wrestled with in the past. I have the scars to prove it, and I enjoy sharing the knowledge that came with each and every wound.

I encourage every company to look for a diversity of perspectives on your board — whether it’s a wizened business veteran like myself who is eager to maximize his contributions, or an up-and-coming innovator. A great board can help keep a great company on track.

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