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Connie Collingsworth is a 2009 Alumna of the Board Institute. Her bio is available here.
Banner Corporation (NASDAQ: BANR)
2013-present. Publically traded bank holding company with approximately $10B in assets
Board Member; Governance Committee Chair; Compensation Committee Member
PREMERA BLUE CROSS
2013-present. Preeminent Pacific Northwest health care coverage with over 2M members
Board Member; Member of Audit & Compliance, Quality, and Investment Committees
2000-2008. Privately held technology company in eDiscovery marketplace
Yes, active networking was key to obtaining both the Banner and Premera board positions. The Banner board opportunity arose as a result of participating in an event held at the NYSE called “Moving the Needle.” The objective of the event was to promote broader board diversity in US public companies. A short bio of the individuals participating in the event was included in a book, which was distributed to the Board Chairs and Chairs of the Governance and Nominating Committees of all publically traded US companies. The Chair of Banner’s Governance Committee had been a board member of a prior client when I was practicing law at Preston Gates & Ellis. I had not had any contact with him for over 13 years, but when he saw my bio in the book he reached out to talk to me about joining the Banner board.
The opportunity to join the Premera board arose as a result of me networking with a former law firm partner who had become the General Counsel of Premera and letting him know that I was interested in serving on corporate boards. He recommended me to the CEO of the company as a potential board candidate.
The board position at Attenex Corporation arose in connection with working with the company as a client while I was practicing law at Preston Gates & Ellis.
Participating in DirectWomen helped me appreciate the importance of being proactive in letting people know I am interested and qualified to serve on a corporate board. In these conversations, I emphasize my strengths as an experienced strategic advisor, with knowledge and expertise in governance and risk management. Additionally, I talk about my expertise in complex business transactions and sophisticated financing arrangements and that I am viewed as a leader with strong business judgment and exceptional communication and interpersonal skills---all characteristics companies look for in potential board candidates.
I think there is a barrier to improving gender diversity on boards as a result of the preference for female CEOs as the first choice as a board candidate. There generally is a lack of appreciation for the qualifications of other C-Suite Executives, and perhaps an even stronger bias against General Counsels. This is based on the perception that a GC will play the role of “lawyer” versus that of seasoned strategic business advisor.
I believe the exposure to a broad range of businesses and complex transactions throughout my career has prepared me well to contribute to the boards’ discussions with management. Asking insightful questions of management in a constructive fashion is also viewed as a critical skill in fulfilling a board member’s fiduciary obligation.
Being intentional and proactive about networking and making efforts to educate myself to be an excellent board member are both critical.
I served as a board member of the NACD Northwest Chapter and am a member of Women Corporate Directors. I also participated in a Harvard Business School Leadership Forum in 2014 and attended the Stanford Directors’ College Executive Education Program in 2012. I also continue to be actively involved in DirectWomen, attending its annual Sandra Day O’Connor luncheons and serving as Chair of the Honoree Committee and Co-Chair of the Class Committee.
The two boards on which I currently sit are both highly regarded regional companies based in the Pacific Northwest. My objective is to have an opportunity to serve on the board of a company with a broader geographical footprint where I can add value based on the depth of international experience gained from working at the Bill & Gates Foundation and my understanding regarding markets of emerging economies. It would also be great to have an opportunity to utilize the unique insights I have regarding corporate social responsibility.
Two critical words—patience and persistence. Start planting the seeds by telling everyone you talk to that you are interested in serving on a corporate board. Make an investment in becoming educated regarding the responsibilities of a board member by becoming engaged, such as in the local NACD or a Women Corporate Directors chapter, which also provide good opportunities for networking.