Women on Boards

Beverley Babcock Moves from the C-suite to the Corporate Board

After a career spanning more than 30 years, at the pinnacle of which she was Chief Financial Officer of Imperial Oil, Ltd, a multi-billion-dollar company, Beverley Babcock turned to board service as a way to continue contributing her many talents. Following a deliberate search for the right fit, she was appointed to the Olin Corporation Board of Directors in June, and now serves on the Audit Committee and the Directors and Corporate Governance Committee.

Q: When and why did you first consider service as a member of a board of directors—where were you in your career at that time, and what did you feel you could contribute?

A: Once I had gained access to the C suite, I worked frequently with Imperial’s corporate board. Seeing their responsibilities and the value they added, I understood the opportunity that existed for me. As I was preparing to retire at a relatively young age as an audit committee financial expert, I knew that’s where I could contribute and continue to be engaged. I am a believer in life-long learning.

Companies listed on the NYSE are required to have financial experts on their board. So, not only was I qualified, a lot of attention has been given to the lack of diversity in board rooms—and here I was, a woman, with the experience and the opportunity.

Although my decision wasn’t completely altruistic, I also believed it was my responsibility to pursue it. If we don’t grab challenges when they’re presented, it makes it harder for those behind us. We all have a duty to make things better in society when we can.

Q: What barriers to entry did you encounter as you sought board service for the first time?

A: Attaining your first board position is more challenging than attaining subsequent positions. This is partly because many boards don’t use search consultants or other official mechanisms to identify candidates; they rely on referrals from current board members or other company executives.

I view that as a potential barrier to entry—until you’re known, how do you become known?

Q: Can you tell us about your journey to serve on a Fortune 500 board? What did you do to position yourself to achieve that goal, what was your process?

A: I started thinking about this before I retired. I spoke with Imperial’s board members to let them know that I was considering pursuing a board position. They encouraged me and kindly agreed to be references but also to act as eyes on the ground. I prepared my resume—the first in decades, and sent it to a number of board search firms. I had some face-to-face and phone conversations with several firms, but after I had an expert rework my resume I got more traction. In the new resume template, it was easier for companies and firms to understand the value I could bring to a board—my original resume was geared to a CFO job, not a board directorship.

Shortly after sending out my new resume, opportunities came my way, and the Olin Corporation seemed the best fit for me—I was added to the slate of candidates, interviewed, and selected to take the next step. I now sit on the Board Audit Committee, which is one of the required committees for any board.

Olin’s Board has 11 independent members and meets about nine times a year —and then the Audit and Governance Committees also meet separately. I’ve been very impressed with the level of engagement and conversation, collaboration among the board members.

Q: What advice would you give to women professionals ready for board service? How can they signal they are prepared to step into the board member role?

A: I suggest looking at what committees the boards in their targeted industry have. Depending on the jurisdiction, there will be different committee requirements. This will give you a sense of the skillsets needed, and then you can evaluate how your skills match up.

If you’re still working, try to navigate within your career to gain the kind of experience that will improve your board readiness—this could mean expanding your job experience or pursuing some additional education.

Then, you need to really get out and network; get your name out to companies that might be interested in new board members.

Approaching board search firms is one path to consider. Some people actually call companies to inquire—or look at their proxies and note which board members are approaching the end of their tenure. The best points of contact are the corporate secretary or the CEO.

Finally, I learned through this experience that you gear your resume specifically toward a board position rather than an executive role.

Also, you need to continue to keep your contacts with search organizations fresh—I found reasons to keep connecting with them such as providing updates to my resume and dropping by their offices when traveling in the area. Since the public announcement of my selection to Olin’s board went out in June, I’ve had a number of other opportunities—so as I said, getting your first position is the hard part! Once people recognize that you’re board-ready, opportunities will come your way.

But it’s a little soon to add another board position to my plate! I want to focus on doing this well before I consider taking on more. The National Association of Corporate Directors says that board service requires about 250 hours of work a year. And I’ve heard that one board position could be considered a quarter of a job, so four director positions would be the most anyone would want to have.

Learn more about applying for Forté’s list of Global Board Ready Women that offers headhunters, Chairs and boards a central place to locate women who are qualified to sit on a board.

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