As a 36-year-old engineer with over 10 years of operational and technical experience in upstream oil and gas, it recently dawned on me that, to rise to the top ranks of corporate America, I would need to more deeply develop my own executive excellence.
Like many women in oil and gas, I had been so focused on becoming a technical expert in my field, attempting to solve the problems of exploration and production companies while simultaneously generating revenue for the company I worked for, that I failed to realize that, to progress beyond the ranks of a global product line manager, I needed an overhaul of my executive presence.
To further explore this concept, I am writing a series of articles about what I have learned on my journey to find executive excellence. This first article focuses on an interview I conducted with Angie Gildea (at left), a partner at KPMG, to garner advice for young professionals seeking a seat on a nonprofit board.
Let’s first talk about executive presence or what I am calling executive excellence.
In my mind, executive excellence means curating a strong social and business network, displaying charisma, emotional intelligence, negotiation skills, executive appearance, leadership and branding while providing mentorship and sponsorship to others. My definition of executive presence expanded after interviewing Angie. From this conversation, I have added to my definition the ability to speak to many different audiences, while interpreting non-verbal cues to read an audience, all in an effort to strategically add value.
In this article, I will focus on advice from Angie on what it takes to get a seat on a nonprofit board. Being an engineer with minimal exposure to business school, I must admit I am fascinated by consultants — to the degree that I purchased many books like Case in Point and The McKinsey Mind, visited the Bain & Company office in Boston, and sat with Accenture and McKinsey consultants over lunch to pick their brains. I even practiced case frameworks to get my mind thinking like a consultant. Therefore, interviewing a consulting partner such as Angie was an honor.
Angie first started working at Accenture in 1999 after leaving behind both a job at Houston’s MD Anderson working on clinical trials and a dream to become a physician. She turned to consulting and signed with Accenture where she worked with clients such as Chevron, with projects related to Y2K, the rise of the Internet, how to use the Internet internally in an organization, and online catalogs. In 2003, she started working on projects around Digital Oilfield.
After seven years working with Accenture, Angie gave birth to her first child. It was then that she contemplated leaving behind corporate life to focus on motherhood, full time. Instead, she was able to negotiate a part-time position that allowed her both to further her career while raising her daughter.
For the next three and half years, Angie worked two days per week though many of her colleagues and clients were unaware of her reduced hours because she was just that good at her job. Part-time employment forced her to focus on bringing value, as the two days she did work meant she needed to maximize her time to the fullest.
In 2011, while on maternity leave with her second child, Angie was promoted to partner, bringing her back to full-time employment. In 2014, she was recruited by KPMG and offered a partnership she could not refuse. It was exciting to hear about the power house of females working for KPMG — from the CEO, Lynne Doughtie, to Regina Mayor, who manages the Exxon Mobile account.
Finally, we turned our conversation to talk women and boards. Angie is a former Junior League member, so it was no surprise to find that she is now serving on five different nonprofit boards. She serves on the board for Theatre Under the Stars, Big Brothers Big Sisters – Houston Chapter, Big Brothers Big Sisters – LoneStar Chapter, Trees of Hope and River Oaks Baptist School. She served on her first board at the age of 38.
Angie strategically outlined her attainment of these board seats to me in the following steps:
Step 1. Start with a nonprofit board. It is much easier for individuals to take the leap from nonprofit board seats to for-profit board seats. Nonprofit boards typically have the same governance structure as a for-profit board.
Step 2. Find something that you are passionate about. For her, it was all about children, education and women.
Step 3. Use your company to help place you on a board. Seek out the corporate social responsibility leader at your organization and find out what nonprofit organizations your company supports. It is often that your organization tracks the number of its employees serving on boards and has and will be able to help place you on a board.
Step 4. Understand that there is going to be some financial or time responsibility either from you or your corporation. You must demonstrate to the organization that you have skin in the game. It is not really so much about how much you personally contribute, but rather that you do it.
I then asked Angie if there were many young individuals (under 40) serving on any of the boards she works with. She candidly replied, ‘No.’ However, organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters are trying to change this. They have created a young professionals organization that gives the younger generation exposure to the board and for the board to connect with up-and-coming leaders. The Big Brothers Big Sisters board of directors even created an advisory board seat for a young professional.
The time commitment per board is roughly once a quarter for a handful of hours.
Now, because I know the business savviness a consultant brings to the table, I couldn’t help but ask if engineers like myself would have a harder time finding a board seat. Angie responded brilliantly that everyone brings something unique to the table, whether it be legal advice, finance, technology expertise, strategic thinking or fundraising experience. She did hone in on the idea that it is important for you to know the value that you would bring to the table.
Experience with nonprofit boards is a potent first step towards seeking a seat on a for-profit board, which I will discuss in a future article.