Part 1: How to Become a Private Equity Board Director

The following is an excerpt from BlueSteps' workshop How to Become a Private Equity Board Director. 

Moderator: Kathy Simmons, Executive Director, BlueSteps Career Services

Panelist: Mike Lorelli, Board Specialist.

Kathy Simmons: So, first of all before we really get into the meat of this subject here, what are some of the reasons that people approach you for a board job? And that they're interested in getting board work. 

Mike Lorelli: So Kathy, it's usually one of two reasons and sometimes both. The first reason is people beginning to think about life stage management, meaning blending in some 1099 income from board work into their day job, so to speak, W2 income. And over time that pie chart could shift to the point where you reach a tipping point, and in fact if you're on three or four good boards, that's plenty of income and you then have the luxury of not having to do a day job. So that's one of the two reasons.

The second is the emotional gratification of getting out of your day to day sandbox and immersing yourself in another team's agenda and decision making. And I have to tell you, I'd been on board since I was 34 years old. When I come back from a one-day Abba town board meeting, I'm refreshed, i'm rejuvenated, and I probably picked up a couple of things which I can take back to my own company. So, all over these years, the companies where I've been employed have applauded the fact that I'd had an interest in doing outside board work.

Kathy Simmons: And Mike, what would you say is the big, overarching strategy, the most needed piece for landing a board seat?

Mike Lorelli: Yeah. So Kathy, it's really two things and I generally tell people think it's the classic push and pull marketing at the same time. It is fact based that about 40% of board candidates are found from having an effective LinkedIn profile. It's what I call a board sticky LinkedIn profile. So that's one of the things you have to do. That's the pull part of the approach. The push part is you really do need to let private equity firms, in particular know that you're interested in board seats. They're not going to stumble on it by accident. Those circling back to the first point, I want to comment that of the four company boards that I am on, two I am on because I was found on LinkedIn because my LinkedIn profile is what I said is board sticky.

Kathy Simmons: All right, so let's talk a little bit about people who are looking for maybe a quick additional board seat or their first board seat. Where should they, how should they spend their time? What do you think? What are your thoughts there?

Mike Lorelli: Yeah. So, my headline on this one, Kathy, is you need to fish where the fish are. I often quote the Wall Street Journal op ed piece November 17th of 2017 that commented that as of that date there were only 3,600 public companies in the U.S. left with over 500 million in revenue. Now when most people read that op ed piece, they thought it was a typo and they were saying to themselves, how can the Wall Street Journal not have this fact checked that the number is they say is 3,600, it's got to be 10,000.

Well guess what? It was 3,611 as of that day. I wished that article had gone on. They commented that in that same 40 year period or all that MNA shrunk the number of public companies and that same 40 year time horizon private equity quietly exploded to the point where today there are 16,800 private equity portfolio companies and that is a rich target for people looking at getting board opportunities. So, my answer is fish where the fish are. Look at the relative size of those two buckets, 3,600 public, 16,800 private equity, and just to complete the model plus 1,000 venture capital firms. And by the way, the PE community and the VC community both have boards in about 85% of their companies.

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