Last issue I told you about my determination to build an advisory board for Nimbus Co. My banker and lawyer convinced me that my company needs access to more intellectual firepower, and I sure wasn’t going to get it from them.
As Nimbus grows, you see, so do my problems. Finance, global marketing, sales structures and compensation have all become big challenges. The solutions that worked when the company was small (when accounting runs out of space, get a new shoebox) just don’t work anymore.
My lawyer said it would be hard to find good advisers. So I found a book at the library with a seven-step formula.
Step 1. List the characteristics you most desire in your board.
This took about two hours. (I worked right through Seinfeld, CSI: Cleveland, and The Simpsons episode where Homer sells Bart to a circus.) But I figured out what Nimbus needed: advisers who have grown healthy businesses. At least one of them should have expertise in borrowing money (in this context, it’s called “accessing capital”). Plus, my board should include masters of quality improvement, market cycles, tax and legal.
During a commercial, my wife Cirrus asked whether my advisers shouldn’t also be familiar with Nimbus’s business sector. I rolled my eyes and said I’d already thought of that. (Then I wrote it down when she went to the kitchen for more chips.) Later, she suggested I seek people who know corporate governance. “That’d be good,” I said. “But I think all those people are in jail.”
Step 2. Make a List of the people you know who match these characteristics.
This step didn’t take long. The best match was my brother-in-law, because he’s an expert at accessing capital. Usually from me.
Step 3. Start over.
Actually, this step wasn’t in the book. My friends are fun to watch football with, and most would join a board if it meant free sandwiches. But I’m not sure that counts as a qualification.
So I dropped the book and started writing down the names of business acquaintances whom I like and respect. Since I’ve been in business for 20 years, I soon had a list of six names.
Next morning, the first person I called was local philanthropist Daily O’Dea. She started her own autoparts business and sold it to a Mexican outfit for big bucks. I felt she’d be a perfect adviser if we ever got a buyout offer. Cirrus and I often dream of retiring while we’re young enough to enjoy Simon & Garfunkel reunions.
Daily thanked me for calling and actually said she reads my column. Despite that, she said, she would be glad to join our advisory board.
My next call was to Labrador Coates, a McGill psychology prof who moved to Slug Flats to escape the rat race. He now runs his own management coaching firm, with clients across Canada, so I was delighted when he agreed to join our board — even though (as he pointed out twice) the honorarium I offered is less than his hourly rate.
I was discovering that people like being asked for help. Wish I’d known that years ago.
But my next call didn’t go so well. Jack Bienstock is a retired accountant known for being as honest as the day is long; I only hoped he hadn’t lost his edge. When I called, he asked me to call back in an hour. “I hate to miss a minute of Celebrity Girlfriend Justice,” he said. I not only crossed Jack off my list, I began rethinking early retirement.
Then I called Sherry Glaze. She and her husband own four Mikita’s Donuts outlets, but she manages the dough. Sherry knows finance, quality and employee motivation, and she’s got the scars to prove it. “I would love to join your board,” she said. “Can I be chair?” I told her I’d think about it.
Since Nimbus often sells to the aerospace sector, I called Sky Whilliker. He used to be in strategic planning for Canadian Airlines, back when that name was not an oxymoron. But he said he’s too busy to help. He’s now writing jokes for WestJet.
Finally, I called a software developer I met in 1999 who seemed to really understand what he called the “B2B space.” Fortunately, he wasn’t home, and I got his voice message: “If you’re calling about buying water filters, please press 1. For soaps and hand creams, press 2…”
After the sixth call, I rested. I reviewed my new board: a charitable former entrepreneur, an academic turned consultant and a doughnut maker with control issues. Not a bad start. None of them will ever be asked to join the board of Scotia Dominion Bank. But then, no one in Slug Flats ever is. At least no one on my team has ever done time.