White Board to the Right Board

Article by: Apoorva Ruparel | Posted: 1st Dec 2018

1st Dec 2018

One of my best buddies, a founder of a very successful advertising agency in Bangalore, India named his company 'White Canvas'

He and his team believe, every new initiative, if it is a business idea, a marketing campaign or an initiative; it starts from a white canvas, where you start pinning your thought process, mind-maps, work-flows and all the meta data relating to that idea. This point-of-view is very appealing, to the way I think, and to a considerable extent, the way, most of us think.

I have worked with several ideas and entrepreneurs from diverse industry verticals, having sundry psychographic profiles. And as it goes, whatever they started, initiated, built and grew, was initiated from just a sketch on the white canvas.

Although most of these passionate individuals ended up building very successful businesses, irrespective of the scale they achieved; there was a very thin red line that separated them. The once who reached their goals swifter, profitable and with rock solid sustainability, were the ones who took the tact of building their board of directors with a lot of ideation, creativity, effort and research.

In this very fast diminishing size of the world, with the most significant influence from social media and the world wide web, it definitely does not take much time and financial impact, to find a like minded, experienced individual, who has been an expert in the field you are building out your idea in. Infact, it is almost effortless and only needs a conscious tact. Offcourse, you need different kinds and with varied lines of expertise.

There have been a lot of arguments over time and perceptions created world-wide about the boards.You would hear most of the CEOs of start-ups and growth stage organizations saying "Board meetings are such a humongous waste of time, why should I waste one full day of my productive time when I can invest that day, in generating more profitable business for the company". At least I have heard, 9 out of 10 CEOs saying this to me in different tones, connotations,words of expressions, but the meaning leads to the same conclusion in their minds.

Most boards are misinterpreted by most of the CEO's as an elevated hierarchical reporting engine, with nuisance value in terms of being a critic and of a zilch value proposition. I have a different theory though. Boards are like any other department falling under the management purview of the CEO.

Most of the boards today consist of representatives nominated by the investors and representatives from the management team, to make sure consensus can be achieved, on major financial, structural and strategic decisions. This most often prevalent situation means the organization does not have a board and the CEO has not done justice to his role.

In absence of a structured board, it is a CEO's most relevant duty to source and appoint an industry bench-mark board of directors.

Creating a Board is like creating a business plan. I always adapted a framework, which I created and it always worked for me.

I call it the DIFFER framework of building the BOARD

  1. D for Devils Advocate: A member of the board who is a Devils advocate is a must have, even though most CEO's perceive this member to be an irritant. Even though there is a very thin line between a Devil's advocate and a Rebel, if carefully chosen, this member is an absolutely indisputable necessity on your board. They will question every theory, strategy and investment, which always opens a new avenue of thinking or gives you a risk cover which you did not foresee.
  2. I for Industry Influencer : When you are running a start-up or a growth stage business as a CEO, it is evident you keep a close tab on industry trends, analysis, and other related Meta data. Although an Industry Influencer and expert on your board, can free up lot of your  time, effort and cost to get you the right insights, media coverage and partnerships which will put you on an accelerator in your race towards your goal.
  3. F for Friend & Confidante: This one is a tough one to find. A friend, whom you can trust and who would not superficially, but truthfully be happy about your success and will guide you take the right path is a big rarity. But I have been surrounded by quite a few gems who have always been there, when I was in a mode of contemplation or confusion,about certain moral, ethical, compassionate, emotional or sour decision making cross-roads. This one need not be an industry expert, or an exemplary but a go-to-guy to help you, the lone captain of the ship, to make it the right path.
  4. F for Financial Structuring: Equity Infusions, Debt, Line of Credits, Factoring, Working Capital loans, Cash Flow Optimization, are very important levers of an organizations financial machinery and form the spinal cord of a business operation in the growth phase. An expert on your panel who will guide, introduce and enable execution of some of these levers is a cherry on your cake. There are numerous financial structuring experts, who have been there, done that, and are just looking for an opportunity to put this hat again for the excitement and thrill of achievement more than a financial consideration. These guys are highly self motivated and always raring to go.
  5. E for Educational and Academics: There is always an academics angle to your business idea, and to chair an expert in your board, who will be your mascot in the world of academics and education is an impeccable value add to your business from a credibility and sustainability stand point. If it is training, certifications, internship projects, workshops, scholarships and center of excellence initiatives, all of these tools will enable your business and provide you insights which are thoughtful and unprecedented.
  6. R for Research and Development: If your idea is a product or a service, there is an absolute unquestionable necessity to have a REALISTIC road map and future path of offerings which will add value and solve your consumer's problems. Even though most CEO's have an in-house R&D team, a board member who can guide, share and provide a correction trajectory to your initiatives, is an intangible but ubiquitous plug-in to the whole spread of your R&D efforts. Certain offerings, brain stormed and actualized in these board meetings with this kind of an expert have proven to be the most successful.

It is at the discretion of the CEO, and the composition of his management team, that all the above or a mix of few from the DIFFER framework can constitute a promising and an elevating board of directors.

You are a CEO, because you are a Swiss Knife and multi functional but, orchestrating and getting the best out of your board of directors is an art and requires a welcoming attitude and from my experience, makes you infinitely more efficient and successful as the captain of your ship.