By 5:30, Kernel and I are usually the last people in the office at Nimbus Co. While I wrap up paperwork, our excitable young vice-president is usually checking his eBay auctions.
I was planning the agenda for meeting with my new board of advisers the other day when Kernel knocked on my door. “I hear you’re building a board,” he said.
“It’s only an advisory board,” I said. “Three people empowered to advise and guide, not direct.” “Oh,” said Kernel. “Can I be on it anyway?”
I didn’t know what to say. I had seen these advisers as my personal resource. “C’mon, Cumulo,” Kernel whined. “I’m the second-biggest shareholder.” I tried to head him off, saying, “I don’t think you understand the purpose of an advisory board …”
“Sure I do,” Kernel interrupted. “Just this morning, I advised Wirtz to get his bowling ball off the lunch table.” “No, no,” I said. “This board isn’t about giving advice, but seeking it. Our advisers have valuable experience to teach us.” “Well,” said Kernel, “you always say I have lots to learn.”
The next morning, Kernel accompanied me to the inaugural meeting of Nimbus Co.’s board. We met in the backroom of the Voyageur Restaurant, an oak-panelled hideaway normally reserved for bashes such as Firefighter of the Month. Our first adviser, Daily O’Dea, swept into the room like a queen. A retired autoparts manufacturer, she got her start when she couldn’t find a rear-view mirror she liked and began making them herself. Before you knew it, she had the world product mandate for fuzzy dice. “So good to see you again, Columbus,” she said. “And you,” she said to Kernel, “could you get me a cup of tea?”
I was trying to introduce them more positively when Labrador Coates arrived. He’s a business coach who helps executives increase their EQ, seize the day, release their giant within and avoid clich&eachute;s. “I’m hoping we make lots of important decisions today,” he said. “I need three more new business concepts to finish my book.”
“Hmm,” I frowned. “You do know that this is an advisory board, not a formal board of direc—” “Of course, my boy,” said Labrador, handing his jacket to Kernel. “I’m sure you’ll find our decisions expeditious.” Just then Sherry Glaze arrived. She owns four Mikita’s Donuts outlets, and I’ve always admired her confidence. She pulled me into the hall and said, “If I’m to be chair of this board, I need some changes.” She gasped when I told her I would be chair. Then she asked Kernel for a glass of water.
Some people call meetings to order and then say a little prayer. I did it the other way around.
Things went well for a while. I had everyone introduce themselves, then I did a PowerPoint presentation called “Nimbus Co.: Product, People and Passion.” “That’s good,” muttered Labrador, copying the title in his notebook. At the end, I fielded some good questions about Nimbus’s products and markets. Although I wish most of them hadn’t come from Kernel.
I then led a discussion of two key challenges facing the company: the declining aerospace markets, and the growing threat of microwave popcorn. I can’t say I got any actionable ideas out of it, but I enjoyed hearing Daily O’Dea say, “Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve gotten this far.” (At least until I realized that could be taken two ways.)
Then my new advisers started firing off all kinds of suggestions. “Why not look at new opportunities in the automotive sector?”, one suggested. “Do more management training,” said another. “Switch to rain-forest friendly coffee,” said a third.
Faster and faster the advice came. “Diversify,” said one. “Stick to your knitting,” said another. “Upgrade your people’s skills,” said one. “Offshore your internal processes,” said another. After two hours, my head was spinning. Who knew three people could have so many contradictory ideas?
I tried to wrap up. “Any questions before we adjourn?” I asked. “When do we get to vote on something?” asked Labrador. As I again explained the concept of advisory boards, Sherry interrupted: “What about the format of this meeting? Are we happy with the structure, the chair … ?” Then came Daily: “Let’s talk Next Steps. How does Columbus implement our advice?”
Suddenly, Kernel stepped in. “We’re grateful for your advice,” he pronounced. “I will circulate the minutes next week, and then we can talk Next Steps. Meantime, you are welcome to come back to Nimbus for perogies in the lunchroom.” Within seconds, my three wise people were bolting for more important meetings.
On our way back to the office, Kernel asked me how I thought the meeting went. “Pretty good, for a first effort,” I said. “I’m just glad we’re in this together.”