For any ambitious professional, the pinnacle of their career will be joining the board of directors. Not only does a position on the board come with the benefits of status as well as financial rewards but also provides a unique insight into a business along with which comes a great responsibility for influencing change.
Depending upon the sector of the organisation, most boards of directors will look to strengthen their leadership team by appointing individuals from across all of the critical sectors of their business. Typically, this will include a representative from areas such as finance, legal, HR, sales and logistics. Many larger organisations will also include a space for IT on their board but is their room for more specialisms? In particular, can a cybersecurity executive find their way to the boardroom?
With more and more such positions opening in job markets it seems that the answer is plain but just how do you go about making that momentous step?
What is the board looking for?
A board of directors is established to provide a strong and knowledgeable team to support, advise and manage critical business functions as well as determine the direction of an organisation’s policies. A place at the boardroom table depends on three key factors: business acumen, technical expertise and gravitas.
At least one of these is an obvious one and is something that should be well within your control to achieve: technical expertise. There is no point in looking for a place at the board table if you do not possess a superior knowledge of your field of experience.
Business acumen is the second achievable quality that professionals can set their career plan on achieving. Directors appointed to the board must be able to apply their field of expertise to the wider picture of the business in which they are operating. They must be able to appreciate other key factors which influence the decisions being made and be able to operate within, and to, the existing company policy, ethos and goals.
Gravitas is a slightly ‘fuzzier’ skill set that is difficult to define but covers the interpersonal skills associated with people who can operate at a senior level, can communicate effectively and can conduct themselves with a great deal of professionalism.
Acquiring essential skills and work experience
To reach the lofty heights of the boardroom you will be in competition with a large number of other ambitious candidates so it is important to ensure that you have a wide range of transferable skills as well as a broad background of senior positions held. To hold a position of such seniority you need to be able to demonstrate that you are qualified to do so. Successful candidates who make the leap to the board of directors can typically evidence their progression in one of four backgrounds:
Experience in legal or consulting;
Government backgrounds particularly in the military or intelligence community;
Previous roles as CISO/CSO’s;
CEO’s of cybersecurity firms (typically those that have moved on following acquisition or IPO’s).
What experience in any of these roles demonstrates is a business acumen above, and in addition to, technical knowledge.
You think you have what it takes so, how do you get in front of the right people?
It may very well be that you are currently working in an organisation where opportunities to join the board exist but it is more likely that you will need to be proactive in getting yourself in the market.
Firstly, be aware of those industry sectors that are most likely to seek someone with specific experience in cybersecurity. At the moment this is very pertinent to those organisations that offer critical services: sectors with government contracts, energy companies, healthcare and industrial manufacturing are all prime candidates to approach.
Press the flesh and start networking. There is no greater impact than actually connecting with people directly. Do your research and be sure to attend events, seminars and conferences that will have other board directors attending. Take the opportunity to meet people of influence and try to get introduced to potential recruiters. By all means look to a recruiting firm directly but do take the bull by the horns and be your own best marketing strategy.
Whilst you wait for your efforts to pay off, take any opportunity to improve the attractiveness of your resume.
Finally, if you are serious about reaching board level then you may need to take a fresh look at your career plan. Cybersecurity is a hot field right now and there are many new start-ups taking the lead over larger competitors; getting on board with an innovative young company could lead you to your goals sooner than you think.