In fact, many smaller companies may not use recruiters at all, heightening the need to network. “I have worked with recruiters, but for middle-market firms, it seems that most placements are by word of mouth,” says Mark Zorko, CFO of Del Global Technologies and chair of the audit committee for MFRI since last April. His understanding is that middle-market companies are trying to save the search fee by tapping into the networks of current executives and directors. Zorko has served on a number of boards and says “with the exception of two or three times, all of my introductions [to boards] were based on personal relationships.”
To be sure, there are good ways to meet the right people. One is to take director-education programs. The NACD offers courses around the country for both established and aspiring directors, and is planning to roll out Web-based versions of some of its programs next fall. Plenty of private business schools, including Northwestern’s Kellogg School and UCLA’s Anderson School, also offer courses for aspiring directors.
Another way is to serve on nonprofit boards. “It’s good in terms of learning how the boardroom works, and it’s also a good networking opportunity, since other board members are often on public-company boards,” says Kamerick, who is on the corporate board of the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago, along with several other Chicago-based nonprofits.
There’s no denying that the search for a CFO board opportunity can be frustrating. Perhaps the brightest ray of hope is that, as the Securities and Exchange Commission requires ever more disclosure about directors’ backgrounds, boards are trying to become more exhaustive and objective in their searches. “They’re moving beyond their own networks” and taking a more analytical approach to filling board seats, says Kelly-Ruyak, who notes that about 10 companies a week contact the NACD for a list of director candidates who fulfill certain criteria. If that trend continues, “you’ll see a little less focus” on a candidate’s marquee value, she says, and “a little more focus on skills and expertise.”