Podcast

Lauren Stiebing 02 November 2020

How to Successfully Land Board Positions at the Right Time in Your Career with Gina Boswell

For this episode of the Career Success Podcast, we have invited Gina Boswell who currently sits on the board of Manpower, Wolverine, Beautycounter, Geltor.

She has led sales for Unilever, being CEO for UK and Ireland, the 4th largest market for the company.

She shares her career journey and some tips to successfully manage a full-time job while holding board positions.

Topics Covered:

– How to successfully land a board position?

– Which are the most important criteria when choosing a board to be part of?

– How early should you start planning for board positions?

– Top 3 tips when looking to land a board position.

 

Lauren Stiebing:

Hi, I’m Lauren Stiebing, and on this episode of the Career Success Podcast we will be joined by Gina Boswell, who has led sales for Unilever’s 10 billion US dollar business, and also ran their fourth largest market, the UK and Ireland. She currently sits on the boards of Manpower, Wolverine, Beauty Counter and Geltor. Gina has been recognized as woman to watch by Advertising Week, marketer of the year, and 50 most influential people in beauty by Womenwear Daily. We’ve invited Gina to share with us her journey, and some tips on how she was able to successfully manage a full-time job while holding board positions. Welcome Gina.

Gina Boswell:

Hello Lauren. Thank you. Thank you for having me today.

Lauren Stiebing:

So as executives reach a certain level in their career, many of them look to broaden their scope by acquiring board positions across various industries. And as you’re someone who has done this successfully, would love for you to share your story with our audience today. And if you can just tell me a bit about the journey that you took to successfully reach these board positions which you currently hold today.

Gina Boswell:

Well, thank you. I like to think that it was a pretty successful journey, but not one that I necessarily planned so carefully. So I’m happy to share whatever tips and wisdom that I have crossed the journey, but as it relates to the board positions, my very first public board was about 15 years ago, so I was in my early 40s. And that was a company called Applebee’s, which you may be familiar with. It’s a restaurant chain.

Lauren Stiebing:

Yes.

Gina Boswell:

And it’s traded on NASDAQ. And the introduction that I had to that board was really a search firm that actually called me because I had just taken the role of chief operating officer of Avon North America. So that was sort of my day job. And my sense from the search firm was that there was some attraction to my expertise as it relates to the similar demographics between the Avon consumer and the Applebee’s customer. There was a customer segment fit is what I was told. But then I was introduced to the then CEO, the other board members, who were amazing. And since it was my very first public experience, I was pretty selective about what I should do. Because I knew the policy stated that I could only do one. So there was sort of a lot of pressure on, is this the right one, seeing as this was a long-term commitment.

Gina Boswell:

So it was great fun at Applebee’s. It was some travel to Kansas. At the time I was working in New York. It was really only a few years later that the company was acquired by another public restaurant business, a company by the name of IHOP, which is an acronym for International House of Pancakes. And so that first public experience was only about three years. So relatively short lived, but just enormous experience for me, but also leveraging my skill sets, which were more on the marketing front, the operations, and so forth.

Gina Boswell:

Following Applebee’s, in 2007 I actually went on the board of Manpower, which is a $22 billion staffing company. Global company, and I’m still on Manpower today. That’s been a great experience. I’ve been on the … As far as committees go, I’ve been on the audit committee, I’ve been on the nominating and governance committee, I’ve actually chaired the audit committee. And as you get into boards, particularly after a few years, your committee experience starts to develop as well. And since I had a background in finance and I was considered a financial expert by the SCC guidelines, it was sort of natural that I would go on the audit committee and then chair that committee. And there were rotations for that too. So you don’t share things for very long, typically.

Lauren Stiebing:

Okay.

Gina Boswell:

Then, fast forward six more years, in 2013 I added Wolverine. And Wolverine is a footwear company, and I’m also still on the Wolverine board today, which is great fun. The attraction for me there was that Wolverine was a portfolio of brands, really amazing brands like Saucony, Sperry, and Keds and Merrill. I don’t know if you’re familiar with these footwear brands, but it was a portfolio of a number of brands. And at the time that I went on that board I was at Unilever, and I also was managing a portfolio of brands. Actually even more brands. Some upwards of 40 brands. I thought there was a lot of synergy in terms of what resource allocation decisions we we’re making, so forth.

Gina Boswell:

So each of the boards that I had gone on there was a real mutual exchange, if you will, of my skills to the company and then the governance aspect and what that brought back to my day job. Those were the two to three public companies. I can talk a little bit later maybe if you like around other nonprofit board experience, which I think is a wonderful launching pad into public and private boards, but those were sort of my … That was my introduction.

Lauren Stiebing:

Okay.

Gina Boswell:

And then when I stepped down from Unilever last October, I actually added a few more boards, and those are private boards like Beauty Counter, which is a direct beauty business. And then Geltor, which is bio-design ingredient company. And I may add, depending on my capacity, I may add a couple more this year. But that fills out my portfolio if you will, and how I’ve been spending my time lately.

Lauren Stiebing:

Yeah. And which are some of the criteria that you’ve set when choosing these boards?

Gina Boswell:

Yeah. This is a great question. It’s probably one of the most important things. I think there’s strategic criteria and then there’s practical criteria. Strategically, in terms of industry, I knew I wanted to be consumer focused or people focused. I wanted something, ideally, that was purpose-driven. I wanted it to be a business that … I needed to be familiar with it. I need to be excited about it. I needed it to be a passion area. I would get all sorts of introductions around companies that were, I couldn’t even sort of read through it without wondering how I could add my skills. So it definitely needed to be something I was familiar with, excited about, purpose driven. I could leverage my skills, but then brought as much back to me. And so that was the strategic piece of it.

Gina Boswell:

Of course there were other diligence aspects to it, because once you get into criteria, you want to do your own diligence on the company and assess the risks, which is really important because if the company is either disrupted, challenged, there could be strategic shifts that happen, such as the case with Applebee’s. As you set criteria as I did, I wanted to make sure that I built in some time beyond the usual board meetings, and I needed to have my eyes wide open about what I was walking into.

Gina Boswell:

But on the practical side, that’s almost as important. And for me, the practical criteria included geography. Because given my day job, I couldn’t spend too much time on planes. I was full on in both roles, whether it was some COO of Avon North America or whether it was when I was running a five plus billion dollar business at Unilever, I wanted to make sure that it was somewhere I could get to. So when I was in the Midwest, it was Midwest. And then when I was in New York, it needed to be at least an airline pub. And the other practical criteria has to do with just how many meetings there are. There are certain types of industries, typically regulated industries, that have many more meetings. And that’s completely fine and acceptable. It just depends on how much time and capacity you have to spend the time that you need.

Gina Boswell:

Those were some of the criteria that I had. And then depending on where I was in my life, I wanted to be super selective, because again, I knew it was a long-term commitment. And I also gave some criteria to the committees that I wanted to participate in, which you also typically have a say in that. Boards may have needs. We want you to be on compensation committee, we want you to be on audit, but this has to do with kind of where’s the fit, where’s the gap that they have that you can fill? And that’s all done sort of in the introductory part of the conversations, so you can know what the five plus year horizon looks like with this board.

Lauren Stiebing:

Yeah. I know you mentioned your first board position that you didn’t necessarily plan it out completely. Looking at planning itself, and I get this question a lot from my network is, how early should individuals start planning for board positions would you suggest?

Gina Boswell:

I think for me, as I said, I was in my early 40s. And as I think about it, I started even before that with some non-profit advisory work. And at the time, this is why I didn’t … It was sort of serendipitous, but it was with my local symphony orchestra. I had a passion around music and there was a need, and I wanted to get involved with the community. That was introduction to governance broadly. Very different in terms of fiduciary responsibilities and the objectives of a nonprofit, but it was those experiences that helped me understand, how do I engage in a broader dynamic where our goal is not really to roll our sleeves up and run any business, but actually see how, strategically, the plans have been set for this organization. The kind of collegial, collaborative environment and the Socratic method of asking them just the right questions. That happens even at a nonprofit.

Gina Boswell:

So I think you can think about it fairly early on, particularly if you have the capacity, but it doesn’t have to come in the form of some big public company. There are lots of private companies, certainly there’s lots of private equity companies that look for varied experiences. So across the different sectors, nonprofit, private, public, and even your own industry associations. So some of us have jobs that lend themselves to boards of … For me it was the cosmetic executive women or the personal care products council. These are industry associations that you might be on as part of your day job. But again, I think they set the stage for the experiences of how to govern, and they also build your network, which is really important. And so a great launching pad, as I said earlier, is that you could then move from that network onto a larger or a more public or corporate enterprise.

Lauren Stiebing:

And what do you think these experiences have added to your professional profile as well as your personal fulfillment?

Gina Boswell:

I think it’s immense. Adds a lot to your profile, particularly if you join the right board. And as I said, there’s this mutual exchange. I think even companies underestimate how much it brings back to your day job. Often the company, your full-time employer would sort of say, “Hey, do you really have the time for this?” If you think through with them, the benefits, it becomes really clear just how much it adds to the profile.

Gina Boswell:

And for me when I was on the first board, I was really careful to make sure that I wasn’t enriching myself beyond the day job. So in my case, I actually planned to donate any Ford fees that I got. Because I had a day job. I just was doing it because it was, as you say, building out the profile. But later on, post my active role, which is where I’m at right now, what I’ll call semi retirement, building a portfolio of boards is then the source of revenue. It’s your earnings income at that point. But in the journey, that’s not as important. It’s really building the skill sets, the network, and the profile around how do you bring back to these boards and then get that experience back to your day job?

Gina Boswell:

So I think, professionally, a lot of profile enhancement, and then I think personally, great fulfillment. Because these boards stretch you, they grow you, they prepare you for your own board. Because often it’s sitting across the table on the other side where you start to think about what’s important in the minds of my own board members, of the full-time employer I have. And again, personal fulfillment gets even better if it’s a business that meets your purpose.

Gina Boswell:

For me, I love providing economic empowerment through my experience with Manpower, basically putting millions and of millions of people in jobs. And then I love the Wolverine component too, which is, as I said, portfolio brands, some of which are in fitness, and how important that it is to society. So when you layer on the purpose of the business and how it links up with your individual purpose, I think there’s lots of personal fulfillment from that.

Lauren Stiebing:

Yeah. Just to summarize, I know you’ve mentioned a few tips, but what would you say are the top three tips that you would suggest to individuals looking to land a board position?

Gina Boswell:

I think the first is to have your criteria together, as we discussed. You have to think about what industries excite you, or it may be something so far from your comfort zone that you just wanted to learn about it, sort of the yin yang approach to it. And having criteria is important because if you do start to get calls and you have a day job, you can only do one. So you need to be selective. And this is a minimum five-year to longer commitment. So really make sure you’ve got that straight out.

Gina Boswell:

And I think there are some challenges people have on how they manage the responsibilities of that. So having your criteria together will help you juggle the responsibilities with your full-time job, because your full-time job comes first. And so I wouldn’t, for example, take on a board when I was in the first year of a new role, because I didn’t really understand my full capacity when it was up and running. There’s all sorts of scheduling issues, which is why the very first thing people ask on a call is, “Can you make the meetings?” Because these meetings are often scheduled two years out.

Gina Boswell:

So the very first piece is you know have your criteria together, think about the time consumption, whether you can actually do it. Each board can be four to five quarterly meetings. That takes you out for about 10 days a year. For every day of board work you basically have to add another day of prep. So realistically that means you need to think of roughly 20 days. So that’s why with a full-time job, I understand why you can only do one board. So one is, have your criteria together.

Gina Boswell:

I’d say the second tip is to build your network and ask for help. Some boards put out searches. So that means staying with search firms and letting them know your interest, but other boards are referrals from other board members, which is why getting involved early on definitely helps propagate a network where there’s other great opportunities.

Gina Boswell:

And then the third piece, it would be do your diligence. Not just on the company, but on the other board members. Because chemistry and the board dynamic is critical. You’re going to be spending a fair amount of time with them and you need the confidence that you can add value in a very collaborative, collegial environment. So those are the three criteria. Build your network, and diligence.

Lauren Stiebing:

Well, thank you, Gina. All of this information has been very helpful, and I’m sure that our listeners will find it very helpful as well. So thank you for joining me today.

Gina Boswell:

Thank you, Lauren. I appreciate it. Take care.