Advisory boards that work
MARISSA Levin more than doubled her revenues at Information Experts in the past three years, and she's the first to tell you she couldn't have done it alone.
Her secret sauce: A great advisory board. About three years ago, the founder and CEO of the 18-yearold strategic communications consultancy turned to a mentor for help in growing Information Experts.
"My company was stuck at $5 million," she says. "I couldn't get past certain road blocks."
Her mentor advised her to put the board of advisors in place. "He said it's a group of people you hand select that can get over your problem," she says. "That conversation sparked a light bulb for me."
Last year, the firm, based in Reston, brought in $11 million () in sales. She's been so happy with her experience that she's even written a book to help other CEOs, called SCALE: How Top Companies Create Breakthrough Growth Through Exceptional Advisory Boards. If you don't have an effective board of advisors in place, now is a good time to start putting one together.
Levin invested nine months in recruiting the right board membersexperts who can help her strengthen the company in key areas. Her 6member board now includes an entrepreneur who sold a $55 million company who has helped with project management, and the former head of one of the government agencies her firm works with, who has sparked business development. "He's been instrumental in making introductions for me and leading me to millions of dollars in work," she said. One of the big mistakes that growth companies make in choosing an advisory board is that they're too relaxed about it.
That won't get you very far. Ask John DeHart, CEO of Nurse Next Door, a 60-unit franchise chain based in Vancouver. About five years ago, the home health care company, which he co-founded with Ken Sim, brought on three advisors. Meetings were held every two months, and though the company would send the advisors a report two weeks before the meetings, everything was pretty informal.
Result: "It just ended up stopping," he says. But DeHart didn't give up on the idea.
About a year ago, the company formed a new board and brought in three new advisors to help with matters like the transition from two CEOs to one (Sim, originally coCEO, has shifted his role into strategic projects). They meet every month for four to eight hours and held a two-day annual retreat. The company makes it worth their while financially.
The new board has required Nurse Next Door's team to stay on top of key information-from financial metrics to risk factors-on a constant basis. "Every single month, I and my entire team have to do formal reporting to the board," says De Hart. "It's made us so much more disciplined in our actions and thought." When Mike Ferranti started his New York City company, Endai Worldwide, in 1999, during the dotcom era, he set up a six-person board of advisors from wellknown firms. But it was hard to get the advice he needed from them. "They were big company guys," he says. The web analytics company, which now manufactures its own email marketing software, tried again and set up what Ferranti calls "Advisory Board 2.0" in 2008. The three-person board, made up of marketing professionals with experience in important niches, is much more hands on. Ferranti pays them to attend meetings and sometimes to tackle consulting projects.
The "intellectually challenging debates" he has had about strategy with his board have led to decisions that have helped the company grow.