Reverse Board Search Explained

Published March 2, 2021

What are your plans for succession? This is the question that led me to run my first-ever reverse board search, a process in which we place someone on the board of another organization.

For very senior, highly-qualified candidates, this is a strategic way to increase industry connections, operational knowledge, and high-level experience. These benefits are valuable to the candidate, but also to the company, especially when looking for someone to take the place of CEO when the time comes.

I developed the process and structure of a reverse board search and have seen the benefits first-hand. Here’s what you need to know about leveraging this opportunity as a company or senior executive.

Process and Structure of a Reverse Board Search

A reverse board search is simply an external placement of an individual on another company’s board of directors. In this process, we build a marketing campaign for the candidate and then market the candidate to companies that are of interest. Here are a few of the key steps we take to execute this search and place a qualified candidate.

Intake: We explore the executive’s background and goals to understand the best possible placement.

Develop: We develop a “board-ready” profile for the candidate to position them as an ideal person for the board to bring on. 

Build: We identify target companies based on industry, size, location, and other pertinent details.

Prepare: We coach all parties on what to expect, questions to ask, and review the duties of everyone involved in the search and placement process.

Launch: We launch our executive search marketing campaign based on the intake valuation and target identifiers, I.E. industry and location.

Execute: We manage assessments and interviews and continually update on progress and status.

Pace: We are committed to maintaining our rigorous efforts through to the successful completion of the campaign.

Monitor: We continue to monitor the progress after a placement is made, including post-placement coaching and evaluation of results from all parties.

All fees for this campaign are paid for by the organization for which the candidate works. The company acts as their sponsor and the companies being marketed to do not have any expenses or fees.

Benefits of Reverse Board Search

There are extensive benefits for all parties involved in a reverse board placement, including the candidate, the candidate’s company, and the board. Consider the value for everyone involved when considering whether a reverse board search is right for you.

For the Company

  • You show that you’re willing to make a significant investment in your loyal and high-value senior employees. 
  • Ideally, you’ll experience less turnover. Your investment drives stronger culture and trust among all employees. 
  • You position this new board member as the future CEO of your company, allowing you to have a strategic successorship plan ahead of time.
  • The company may gain valuable insights into how other companies are running and the challenges they’re facing.
  • As the employee’s network grows, so does the company’s. The more connected your senior employees are, the more you stand to benefit as well.

For the Candidate

  • You build exposure and a stronger contact base. 
  • Your learning opportunities exponentially increase. You’ll learn more about the strategy, operations, and management of the company. All of this knowledge can be brought back to your own company and used to develop your own strategies.
  • A board seat allows you to start focusing on your post-retirement career. 
  • Even if you don’t get on the board, the conversations happen, you’re still introduced to the company, and therefore are building powerful connections with new people.

For the Board

  • You’ll gain a highly-qualified new board member without having to pay a search agency to do it yourself. 
  • You have a fresh set of eyes and ears to contribute and support your efforts.
  • You can bring more diversity to your board. With Senate Bill 979 signed into law, public California boards must place at least one director from an underrepresented community on their board by the end of 2021; those numbers increase for 2022 and beyond depending on the size and legal designation of your board.
  • You gain access to new contacts, through the new board member’s network, which can be used to benefit your business.

A Reverse Board Search Benefits Everyone

Don’t overlook the benefits of a reverse board search, whether you’re a company or candidate looking to get placed. With clear benefits for each party, it’s a strategic way to gain contacts, create a succession plan, and show loyalty to senior employees who are ready to take on a larger role in the company.

Bernard Layton has over 27 years of mid-level and senior-level executive search experience within the Industrial, Engineering, Construction, Business Services, Consumer Products, Professional Services and Financial Services industries. Prior to founding Comhar Partners, he built and lead the Chicago office of Stanton Chase since 2008. Previously, Bernard operated his own search practice (Peoplenext, Nicholas Partners) for over 15 years, assisting both U.S. and multi-national clients with their senior management needs.

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