Board-ing School

A growing number of programs are being offered to teach board-member skills.

When it came to selecting a training program for corporate directors last February, Phoebe Wood moved right to the head of the class.

The executive vice president and CFO of Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp. chose a course called “Directors’ Consortium,” offered at at the University of Pennsylvania and featuring professors from its Wharton School, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and Stanford Law School. The three-day program cost nearly $5,000, but when it was over, Wood was enthusiastically recommending it to other members of the board at children’s-wear maker OshKosh B’Gosh Inc., where she chairs the audit committee and serves on the compensation committee.

“If you go to a class at just one of the schools, you get their flavor. But if you go to the Consortium, you get an incredible faculty interchange involving all of them,” she says. Governance updates about the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and discussions about audit-committee matters had value to her both as a director and as a CFO reporting regularly to a board, she adds.

Some 300 board members a year spring for the Consortium, which offers four programs in a revolving schedule in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Palo Alto, California. But in the post-Enron era, it’s just one of a growing number of programs designed to increase board-member skills and acquaint directors with the nuances of regulatory reform and the new investor environment. For the most part, such classes are offered by a range of business schools—at Harvard, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Emory, and San Diego State, among others—by law firms and Big Four accountancies, and by professional groups like the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD).

A Triathlon-Style Challenge

Mark Zorko, who serves as CFO for various corporate clients as a partner in finance and IT professional-services provider Tatum Partners, likes “how the NACD programs balance the whole landscape of directorship.” This year he attended “Director Professionalism” in Washington, D.C., which costs $1,395 for nonmembers. (Other NACD topics include the audit, compensation, and governance committees.) The course helped Zorko prepare for his first public-company director job, which he is eagerly starting to seek.

Why be so eager to join a board, when others fear the extra pressures and potential liabilities? “It’s both personal and professional,” says Zorko. Serving as a director, he explains, would enable him to build his own resume while offering others his finance experience, particularly that involving troubled companies. “Maybe it’s a contrarian point of view,” adds Zorko, who just turned 50. “Last year I did an Ironman Triathlon, then I asked myself what I’d do for a challenge this year.”

The latest NACD thrust has been to develop eight-hour “in-house” trainings for a company’s directors, generally scheduled in conjunction with a board meeting. “We didn’t even offer this until 2001, and now we’re doing more than 25 a year,” says NACD director of research and COO Peter Gleason, who adds that instructors tailor each program to the specific board’s situation. The standard fee is $15,000 a day.

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