Private Company Director

Private Company Q&A: B. Joseph White

[Editor's note: the following is an installment of our Private Company Director Q&A series. We will continuously update this section with responses from different directors of private companies covering a wide range of topics.]

B. Joseph White

James F. Towey Professor of Business and Leadership; President Emeritus, University of Illinois

Tell me a little about your board experience with privately-owned companies. Is/were the board(s) fully independent, partially independent? Does the board have real power?

I have been a director of Gordon Food Service, one of America’s 40 largest private companies, for over 25 years.  Another outside director and I helped the founders create governance arrangements to enable the company to thrive in perpetuity.  I have written about this in my book, Boards That Excel (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014).  

The board of directors is a mix of family members and independent directors.  Independent directors are in the majority.  There is also a board of advisors that exercises control of the company.

Yes, the boards have real power and are not simply advisory.  

What are your biggest challenges in executing your role as a private company board member?

Making sure that we live up to the high expectations and standards established by the founder.  Ensuring the company is operated for the very long term.  Ensuring a merit system for promotion and executive appointments while welcoming into the company family members who can maintain the family’s values and contribute to the company’s growth and development through their leadership.

Your most rewarding experience while on a private company board?

Seeing the company grow, develop and success beyond even our high hopes.  Working with a family I like and respect.  Helping handle the tough issues as they arise.

What are your top 3 reasons to not join a board?

- You don’t admire and trust the ownership/leadership/

- You won’t be able to make a difference.

- You’re not willing to spend the required time.

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