Why Should you Join a Board? A Q&A with Robert Tercek

Why Should you Join a Board? A Q&A with Robert Tercek

Robert Tercek

Chairman of the Board, Creative Visions Foundation;

Author of “VAPORIZED: Solid strategies for success in a dematerialized world”

Spent a 25-year career serving as an executive for MTV, Sony and OWN, and as an entrepreneur in disruptive startup ventures.


What board do you currently sit on?

RT: I’m the chairman of a board on a foundation called the Creative Visions Foundation based in Malibu, California. It’s a really cool organization. Creative Visions provides fiscal agency for activists all over the world. At any given moment there will be somewhere between 80 and 100 projects happening around the world. And they’re done by creative activists, people who want to make a positive change in the community or world they live in. But they’re not set up to run a charitable organization. They don’t want to do the fundraising, or to deal with the paperwork and government compliance. So our foundation provides that for them. We free those people who want to make a change in the world.

Did you serve on any other boards previous to your current role?

RT: Yes, there were a couple of companies where I served on boards. Never on a public company board. I’ve been involved in two private company boards.

What do you look for in joining a company’s board?

RT: Doing business successfully is really personality driven. And so I have to find the things that appeal to me that are going to work for me, and capture my interest and really engage me. When I look at a company that I want to get involved with, the first thing is chemistry. Do I like the management team? Do I really enjoy hanging out and spending time with them? If you’re in a startup business, you are going to spend more time with that management team than your family, so you better like them. If there’s any part of it that rubs you the wrong way, or is distasteful, or you are not 100% sold on, then you have to know that going in because it won’t be a fit and won’t last long.

The second piece for me is, “Am I passionate about the subject matter?” Every company has some area of focus. If I’m spending that much time and attention, I’m going to become very familiar with the subject matter and I better care a lot about it. That’s going to sustain my interest.

For someone who is a prospective director, this is a litmus test. As a prospective board member, they’re looking at you to see what you can bring, what strategic benefit do we get from having you in our organization. As a director, you need to ask yourself what you are getting out it. And the answer isn’t only money. There’s a lot of ways to make money, and better ways to make money, so it can’t be about that. You have to be attracted to it. How can you make this company more successful?

In your experience, what should the dynamic be between directors and management?

RT: Directors need to challenge their management teams to think through the problem. Directors oftentimes can be too passive. They let management manage, and let management lead. You can’t get too involved in the detail about running the business. That doesn’t work so well as a board member. You can’t substitute for management. You should hold managers accountable. I think directors should be acting as eyes and ears and looking at the broader horizon of the landscape that is out there. Then come back to the management team and hold them accountable and make sure they have good answers. 

What is the biggest difference between serving on a private company board and serving on a public company board?

RT: In a public company, a huge amount of what happens on the management level is compliance. In many respects your hands are tied. You can’t get too cute with forward plans and can’t get too cute with the way you report and so forth. You are pretty strictly measured and guided, and there isn’t much wiggle room there. The whole purpose of being private is that you’re not necessarily accountable to the market. You don’t have to report out, and compliance is a whole lot less of an issue. So you have tremendous freedom.

What is your main reason not to join a board?

RT: If it’s not a place where it’s an opportunity to add value, I wouldn’t do it. Some people consider it an honor [to be asked to join a board], but I view it as a responsibility. As a prospective board member, you have to ask yourself frankly, “Can I do this? Can I make a difference?” You have to hold yourself accountable to your own priorities and principles.

How can companies improve on their process for recruiting new board members?

RT: Some companies have a process for onboarding board members, just like you onboard a new employee. They teach them how to be good board members. Surprisingly, some companies don’t have this process. That’s a really gigantic oversight. There should be an orientation, there should be a welcome package, [amd company leaders] should talk through what the process is.

-- Rob Chakler