I’ve been on 23 public-company boards in the last 28 years. If you want to be on boards, you have to fish where the fish are. That means getting to know CEOs and others who are board members. I was 28 and vice president of sales at a small vendor to cable companies when I decided to try to get elected to the board of the National Cable Television Association. I called all 2,000 industry vendors and promised to represent them if they sent in proxy votes for me. I won on my second try in 1987.
There was only one other female director, and I was at least three management levels below everyone else. But I became very active. I wrote a newsletter, and I befriended all the CEOs. Not only did this help me get more business for my company, but I got to know people who recommended me to join the company boards they served on. I even got my CEO job through my board connections. I’d already served on a board with many of the directors who recruited me to be a CEO.
Networking is my hobby. I spend time with people to find out what makes them tick. I’ll go to dinner so they get to know me as a person, not just another director, and we’ll talk about our families and interests outside of work. If I find out someone loves race cars, maybe I’ll send him a card about some race car event, with a note saying “you might love this.” Building these relationships takes time, sometimes years, so you have to be patient and keep working at it. —As told to Carol Hymowitz