On March 29, 2023, Kingsley Gate Partners hosted a
roundtable discussion for financial executives interested
in pursuing Board opportunities in the future.
Karen Parkhill, CFO of Medtronic, and Marcie Vu, a professional Board member,
led the discussion with Edgardo Montoya, the leader of Kingsley
Gate’s Global Financial Officer practice, moderating. Parkhill
currently sits on the Board of Directors at American Express
and chairs their Risk Committee, while Vu is a member of the
Boards for thredUP, Scopely, and Blockchain.com.
Parkhill and Vu shared their perspectives on the role financial executives
can play on external Boards, as well as how these types of
opportunities can complement someone’s operational
responsibilities and make them a stronger overall executive.
Pros and cons of a non-executive role
Commonly cited reasons for
taking on a non-executive role are
- Contributing / giving back / leveraging experience
- Learning (e.g., new sector, new perspectives)
- Tactical career advancement
But one should not ignore the costs and risks involved
- Time management
- Ever increasing regulation and scrutiny (public only)
- Activist shareholders
- Reputational impact (in case something goes wrong)
- Legal liability (in case something goes REALLY wrong)
Determining the Right Board for You
Each of the speakers highlighted the importance of
determining the type of Board you want to sit on. Parkhill,
for instance, saw joining an external Board as an opportunity
to make her more effective during her interactions with the
Board of Medtronic. Because of that, she wanted to find an
organization that was similar to Medtronic in size and scale
so she could use that experience to bring best practices into
her operational role as CFO of a Fortune 500 enterprise.
Kingsley Gate Partners has observed that over the last five
years CFOs in the Fortune 500 have shown a greater propensity
to move across industries than prior cohorts. Parkhill
demonstrates this trend in her own career, having started
in financial services at JPMorgan and Comerica before her
move to the healthcare technology sector with Medtronic.
Meanwhile, Vu chose to focus primarily on advising Boards
of private and public emerging growth companies after two
decades of IPO and M&A advisory work at Qatalyst Partners
and Morgan Stanley. As a Board member, Vu supported thredUP’s
public offering where she was a member of the pricing committee
for the online fashion resale platform, and Scopely's sale to
Savvy Games Group, where she led the transaction committee for
the mobile-first games platform. Vu ultimately chose these boards
because she found something interesting in each company’s
respective markets—she is passionate about e-commerce and
sustainability (thredUP), sees gaming companies as being at
the forefront of consumer trends (Scopely), and is personally
interested in the development of crypto / web3 (Blockchain.com).
Serving on Committees
When the conversation shifted to committee structure,
Parkhill said that serving on committees gives executives
the opportunity to lean in and amplify their voice.
Because each committee has an important and distinct
role, serving on any of them brings the opportunity to
be of value to the organization. Typically, Parkhill said
that financial experts will serve on audit or risk committees
(she serves on both at American Express and chairs the risk
While Boards don’t always have the exact same
number of committees, or use the same titles for their committees,
they will typically have committees that perform the same types of
functions no matter the company. The image below provides an example
of a standard grouping of Board committees.
How are Corporate Boards typically organized?
Approves CEO &
senior exec pay
Manages reputational and operational risks
New & Trending
Manages stakeholder programs
Vu shared some of the differences she has seen with
private and newly public Boards she has worked with.
At thredUP, audit and risk committees are combined as
are nominations and ESG. Information security matters
are rolled into the audit and risk committee. When a
company has a specific objective in mind—such as going public,
making acquisitions, or raising capital—they may form "temporary"
committees focused on those activities.
Building Relationships Within the Board
Parkhill and Vu spoke about the importance of building
relationships with colleagues on a Board, especially as
a new member. Parkhill said that prospective and new members
of the Board should spend one-on-one time with every Board
member either virtually or in-person. This helps during the
onset of formal Board meetings and cultivates others' familiarity
with your professional experiences and unique perspectives as a
new Board member.
Doing work in advance of joining a Board is critical,
from Vu's perspective. She said that looking at who else
is on the Board you’re joining and getting an understanding
of the culture and dynamics are important. She has found it
especially helpful to have a “buddy” when joining a new Board,
someone you can immediately talk to and ask questions.
In the first couple of meetings, it is important to listen
more than you speak, but you should not be silent either—other
Board members are typically welcoming and want to hear your
voice and perspective.
Governance v. Maintenance
When asked how someone with a finance background should
navigate their relationship with the sitting CFO of a company
they are on the Board for, Parkhill said that it is important
to govern without managing. Board members should offer advice,
ask probing questions, but avoid telling someone how to do their
In her Board role at American Express, Parkhill said she has
built a strong relationship with the company's CFO and the two
collaborate as mutual sounding boards. In Parkhill's opinion,
it is important that this is a two-way street—and she finds that
she learns as much from her interactions with the American
Express team as they do from her. Parkhill added that
good Board members are like good investors; they help
executives think about or see things you may not have
yourself by bringing in a strategic, independent point-of-view.
Vu said that she thinks there is value in finding a balance
between supporting and challenging the leaders of the company,
as well as fellow Board members. Like Parkhill, she said that
asking questions, probing, and helping build frameworks while
sharing your experiences have been the best approaches in her
experience. Vu reiterated the need for Board members to invest
time accelerating their understanding of the company and its
sector and said that the time commitment required to be an
effective Board member is not fully appreciated by some Board
How to Increase Your Chances of Joining a Board
The speakers said that any executive looking to join a
Board should focus on networking. It is important to connect
not only with people who recruit Board members, but also to
leverage investor networks. Executives can speak with VC /
PE firm partners and build relationships that may lead to Board
While you are building your network,
Vu added that it is important to look internally as well to
decide why you want to serve on a Board and what experience
you are hoping to gain from it. Finding answers to these
questions can help frame who you should speak with about
In addition to connecting with people externally,
Parkhill said that interacting with your own Board in the
meantime can help grow your skills and make you a better
candidate for Board opportunities that may arise. This can be
through presentations to the Board or other types of
interactions. When a company considers someone for a Board
position, there is a high likelihood that they will look to the
Board of the company that individual works for as a reference
for how they will perform.
Serving on a Board can be a personally and professionally
rewarding experience for executives, and individuals with
financial and strategic expertise can provide critical
services and a unique perspective to their fellow Board
members and the leadership team of the company they serve.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to earning your
first Board seat, it is important to decide what type of Board
you want to join, why, and to build out and leverage your
network to create opportunities for yourself.
You can also identify ways to increase your interactions with the Board
of your current company to better prepare you to serve on
outside Boards. Since the referencing process will likely
include conversations with how you interact in these sessions
it is paramount that you "earn" opportunities at your own
company to gain exposure to the Board.
Building relationships with recruiters who specialize in Board placements may also be
of value. Kingsley Gate Partners provides its own Board
Development Program for executives seeking these types of roles:
KGP Board Development Program
Kingsley Gate Partners runs a two-day program in conjuction
with the Senior Partners of Freshfields, Deloitte, and Bank
of America. The event takes place every Spring and Autumn and
is specifically focused on preparing Senior Executives for their
first external Non-Executive Director position.
About the Authors
Senior Partner, Head of Global
Financial Officer Practice
Ed Montoya is a Senior Partner with Kingsley Gate
Partners and head of the Global Financial Officer
Practice. With over two decades of experience in
executive search and private equity, Ed specializes
in the recruitment of Financial Officers, Investment
Partners, Operating Partners and portfolio company
executives across all stages of enterprise size
within the technology and healthcare sectors.
Prior to joining Kingsley Gate Partners, Ed led the
Financial Officers practice for another leading boutique
recruiting firm and established his search career at
Spencer Stuart as a core member of its technology and
financial officer practices. Ed takes an inclusive
approach to executive recruitment and is proud to
have helped clients increase the number of women
and people of color in senior executive positions
across private equity, high technology, healthcare,
and financial services.
Ed developed his passion for
finance and private equity early in his career as a
technology and financial services investment banker
at Morgan Stanley and M&A professional for publicly
traded Affiliated Managers Group. Ed earned an MBA from
the UCLA Anderson School of Management and graduated
from U.C. Berkeley with high distinction in Economics.
Ed is based in our San Francisco location.
Austin Zook is an Associate Recruiter with Kingsley
Gate Partners and a member of the firm’s Security
Practice. Austin works with both privately held and
public companies to place senior executives of any
function, primarily in the Technology, Cybersecurity,
and Physical Security spaces.
Prior to joining Kingsley Gate Partners, Austin worked
in the pharmaceutical industry, servicing independently
owned pharmacies. That experience instilled in him a
passion for helping business owners succeed in a rapidly
changing modern environment, which he brings with him
to his work at Kingsley Gate Partners.
Austin holds a B.A. in Communication with a minor
in Psychology from Texas A&M University. Austin is
based in Kingsley Gate Partners’ Dallas office.
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