When I first met Virginie, she was sharing her board membership experience with a group of would-be startup board members. ‘Independent board members bring the external eye, experience and a buffer, when needed the most’. And in crisis situations which are never far away, as well as in exit negotiations, this is extremely helpful.
‘Before you join the board make sure you ask ‘Why’. The alignment is everything. You should know what drives the entrepreneur, what are his values and if they are aligned with yours.’ If this is the case, the adventure can start.
Virginie Verdon knows something about alignment. She is Chairwoman of Néos Solutions, a French waste treatment equipment manufacturer and independent board member of BPA, Swiss computer software company. She also runs a Startup Board Academy hosted by EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. Being a successful woman in business comes with a lot of hard work, recognizing opportunity and seizing it. And with a fair dose of luck too. ‘Women should support women’, she says. ‘But the competence comes first. One has to be ready before stepping into a board role. You cannot improvise, especially in a startup board where everything goes much faster.’
Women remain underrepresented on boards, although boardroom diversity is increasing. Looking at more than 3,000 global companies, Credit Suisse found that women held 14.7% of board seats in 2015, up 54% in 5 years. According to Catalyst in their Equity in Business Leadership Study.
Startup exits cannot be improvised either. Virginie believes Switzerland would have more successful exits if systematic focus is given to scaling up and growing the business. And that requires the right people. ‘Part of investors’ money should always be dedicated to recruiting the right team. US startups got it mostly right but Swiss ones still have a way to go’.
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