Countless decisions are made in all types of organizations every day. Being an inquisitive person, I have always wondered how these decisions come to be made. Many of us hear about the latest organizational initiative from public statements by a company’s CEO or the President of a non-profit institution. However, what is less commonly known is that the vast majority of these decisions start with a pitch behind closed doors to an organization’s board of directors. I have always been curious about what happened behind those doors, and when I decided to get my Executive MBA, gaining boardroom experience was at the top of my list of objectives.
The opportunity to achieve this objective came in the form of an intriguing conversation with Dean Reginald Gilyard of Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business. The school was holding an event at the Angels Stadium for prospective students to learn more about the program and meet fellow members of the Chapman community. While enjoying discussions with fellow prospects, I had the opportunity to convey my boardroom interest to Dean Gilyard. As our conversation carried into the 11th inning, I realized that the Dean and I were the only two people left at the event, watching the Angels outlasted the Athletics 2-1. Leaving the stadium the Dean, Reggie by this point, encouraged me that while the school did not have a formal course on the subject there was the opportunity at Chapman to create just the sort of experience I was looking for. Thus began my journey…
Once I made it through my introductory EMBA class I reached out to Reggie to set up a meeting to further discuss the boardroom idea. In preparation for our meeting I researched which of the top 50 EMBA programs across the country offered courses or programs similar to the one I had envisioned. To my surprise I found few programs even included governance as part of their curriculum and only one that focused on the boardroom experience, which happened to be the number one rated program nationally. With this research in hand I met with Dean Gilyard to continue our discussion of the boardroom concept. We agreed that with the timeline available, a full course on boardroom dynamics would be difficult to create, so our focus turned to developing a seminar for EMBA students and alumni to attend panel discussions with local board members and executives to discuss their boardroom experiences. We discussed some potential formats such as holding one seminar on public boards and another on private and non-profit boards. With activist investors being a hot topic at the time, we also discussed an initial seminar to outline the basic functions of boards followed by more detailed seminars delving into how boards should handle the various challenges and opportunities that arise in today’s global business environment.
Once we had an outline for the seminar’s format we began to discuss the various benefits of the continuing event as part of the EMBA program at Chapman University. One of the key aspects that stood out to us was the simplicity of the idea and the absence of anything like it in other MBA programs. We felt this could evolve into a key differentiator for the school’s EMBA program both from an educational quality perspective but also from a marketing perspective. The event would help students acquire valuable knowledge of the environment many EMBA students hope to be in as well as critical networking exposure with local business leaders. The event could also serve to create awareness within the business community of Chapman’s commitment to the practical education offered by the school’s MBA programs.
With the seminar’s format in place I then met with Chapman’s administration team to work towards holding our first event during the Spring Semester. Working closely with Debra Gonda and Darryl Stevens we were able to arrange funding for the event, reserve a meeting space, and begin the process of locating potential panelists. The school’s strong connections to the business community proved to be critically important in recruiting panelists for our event. Many of the business leaders we discussed the idea with were intrigued by the seminars value to students and were eager to participate. Once we had our event date and location set, I then solicited input from fellow EMBA students for topics that they wanted to have discussed at the seminar. These topics ranged from basic questions relating to the duties of a board member and the ideal size of boards. Others were more involved such as whether to separate the positions of Board Chairman and CEO as well as the types of liability directors can face. With the agenda in hand and our panelists set we were ready for the inaugural boardroom seminar.
The day of the event brought a great deal of excitement for me because what had started as a personal learning objective was now being realized with hard work and collaboration. Our event turnout was strong with over 40 people in attendance. Watching the students mingle with the panelists and alumni I felt a sense of accomplishment before the event had even begun. Dean Gilyard moderated the discussion and got us underway by introducing the panelists and giving a synopsis of their professional backgrounds. Our panelists in attendance were Parker Kennedy the chairman of the board for First American Financial corp., Don Bailey the former CEO Questcore and current board member of Mallinckrodt, as well as Michael Mulroy a current board member of Biotime Inc with a background in investment banking and experience as general council to many public boards. The discussion was very informative and included a vigorous 45 minutes of Q&A from EMBA students and alumni.
Feedback from the event’s participants revealed three distinct themes. The first was that the value we had hoped to deliver with the Boardroom Seminar was realized by students both from an educational standpoint as well as serving as a networking opportunity. The second theme was the event’s success in promoting Chapman to the local business community. This theme was beneficial in marketing the university from two perspectives. First from the perspective of the panelists some of which were not already members of the Chapman community and second from the perspective of the attendees, particularly the alumni, who enjoyed the event so much they conveyed their desire to bring clients and colleagues to future events. The third theme was the unanticipated perspective that panelists gained by engaging in discussions about boardroom cultures outside of their own institutions. This proved to be the most surprising benefit of the seminar which further advanced the event’s positive feedback.
In light of these themes and the enthusiastic feedback from participants, Chapman’s administration team is considering the possibility of continuing the event on a semi-annual basis. They are also contemplating ways to further incorporate boardroom dynamics into the Chapman Executive MBA program’s promotional material as a way to differentiate the program from regional competitors and stimulate the school’s status at the national level. Having experienced the power of the Chapman advantage, I can validate that if your goal is to make it behind the boardroom doors of your company, Chapman University’s Executive MBA from the Argyros School of Business is the place to make that objective a reality.
I hope to see you on campus in the Fall for the next Boardroom Seminar!