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Path to the Board Room.

By Gilbert F. Casellas.

I share my path to a Fortune 100 company board room with the caveat that times and the route to the boardroom has changed and varies by company and candidate.

When I was elected to the board of Prudential Financial in 1998, Latinos on public company boards barely amounted to one percent. The boardroom was the near-exclusive domain of white men, mostly sitting or recently retired chief executive officers. Their paths to the boardroom tended to result from relationships with the company’s CEO or sitting directors and executive search firms were not as involved as they are today. Although women and people of color were serving on boards, their numbers constituted single digit percentages of the total number of board seats.

My election can be traced by my service on a university’s board of trustees. The trustees board chairman was a retired Fortune 100 CEO who was sitting on a few public company boards. He was familiar with my work as a trustee as well as my prior Cabinet-level government position and recommended me to Prudential’s board.

Today, the process of board selection is more rigorous and formal, though the role of relationships still matters. The initial responsibility lies with a board’s nominations committee. At Prudential, the Governance and Business Ethics Committee, which I chair, performs this function. Assuming upcoming vacancies, we perform an assessment of the skills and experiences needed to properly oversee the interests of the company. Generally we review the short- and long-term strategies of the company to determine what current and future skills and experience are required of the board in exercising its oversight function. We then compare those skills to those of the current directors and potential candidates. With the assistance of an independent search firm, we identify individuals who have expertise that would complement and enhance the current board’s skills and experience. Also, as a part of our shareholder engagement, we ask our investors’ input regarding director recommendations. Throughout this process we are intentional in assuring candidate diversity. The result in Prudential’s case is a board that is two-thirds diverse with 80 percent of our independent directors being diverse: 2 African Americans, 2 Latinos, 1 Asian, three women and one openly gay man.

While the selection process for most boards has become more formalized, what boards seek has remained constant: qualified, committed, engaged and experienced individuals with demonstrated records of leadership and achievement to provide oversight and guidance. Equally critical is being known – in your profession, in your community, in your industry – for leadership, achievement, excellence, and expertise. Some achieve it in high-level government service, others in academia and nonprofit activities, and most in business. In all cases, the candidates are high achievers, with records of success at the highest levels.

Empirical studies continue to demonstrate the positive correlation between diversity and financial performance, most especially regarding gender diversity. LATINA Style‘s history of highlighting and celebrating Latinas’ professional successes has contributed to the inclusion of increasing numbers of Latinas on boards and those opportunities will continue to arise and the composition of those boards will continue to change for the better.

Gilbert F. Casellas chairs the Governance and Business Ethics Committee of the board of directors of Prudential Financial, Inc.