Boards Try Buddy System to Get Newcomers Up to Speed
Mentors can help newcomers figure out a boardroom’s cultural norms, power brokers—and even the right place to sit
Joann S. Lublin
The Wall Street Journal article, “Boards Try Buddy System to Get Newcomers Up to Speed,” quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Jack "Rusty" O'Kelley III about more boards implementing a mentorship program. The article is excerpted below.
Amy Chang got unusually frank feedback when the new director of Cisco Systems Inc. walked out of her first board meeting last December.
Longtime board member Carol Bartz chided the then 39-year-old tech executive for apologizing when she posed questions during the meeting.
“You have the right to ask questions,” said Ms. Bartz, a Cisco director since 1996. Ms. Chang says the guidance helped her understand how things worked on the networking giant’s board, though she had been a corporate director elsewhere.
More boards are pairing new members like Ms. Chang with seasoned mentors like Ms. Bartz as they scramble to improve their oversight of management in the face of intensified investor scrutiny. Board buddies can help newcomers figure out the boardroom’s cultural norms, power brokers—and even the right place to sit.
The boardroom buddy system was virtually unheard of five years ago, governance specialists say. “We could see at least 50 Fortune 500 companies with new director mentor programs by 2020,” predicts Rusty O’Kelley, head of the board consulting and effectiveness practice at recruiters Russell Reynolds Associates Inc.
Boards that integrate new members sooner should “make better decisions and produce better results for shareholders,” Mr. O’Kelley adds. But the concept is so new that there is little concrete evidence that they actually accelerate the impact of newcomers.
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