Why I Love My Board

Today, Return Path is happy to announce that we are adding a new independent director, Scott Petry, the founder of Postini and now a senior email product leader at Google (read the official press release here). Scott’s a fantastic addition to our already strong Board, and the process of recruiting and adding him has made me reflect a bit on my Board and its strengths and weaknesses, so I thought I’d share a couple of those thoughts here.

I think Return Path has cultivated a very high functioning Board over the years, and I feel very fortunate to have the group that we have. Here are the top five things I think make our Board special, in no particular order.

1. We have great individuals on the Board. Each of our individual Board members — Fred Wilson, Greg Sands, Scott Weiss, Scott Petry, and Brad Feld, — could anchor a strong Board in his own right and have all served on multiple Boards of related companies. And not only do these guys (Yes, still all guys!) know their stuff… they do their homework. They all come to every meeting very well prepared.

2. The individual Board members have different experiences and personalities that complement each other nicely. Among the three VCs on the Board, two have operating experience, one as a founder and one in product management. Among the two industry CEOs, one has more of a business development focus, and the other has deep technical expertise. Some directors are excitable and a bit knee-jerk, others are more reflective; some are aggressive and others are more conservative; some have extremely colorful metaphors, others are a bit more steeped in traditional pattern recognition. Despite, or perhaps because of, these differences, we work together really well. Which brings me to …

3. The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. We have built a great team dynamic that encourages productive conflict. I assume a lot of rooms full of great directors of different types are so ego-laden that people just talk over each other. Our group, for whatever reason, doesn’t function that way. We are engaged and in each others’ faces during meetings, no one is afraid to voice an opinion, and we listen to each other. Some of this may be the way we spend time together outside of Board rooms, which I wrote about on my personal blog, OnlyOnce, in The Social Aspects of Running a Board. Some is about just making sure to have fun, which I wrote about in series titled The Good, The Board, and The Ugly (Part I, Part II, Part III). The second post in that series includes an entertaining picture of now-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and a few of his friends from his FeedBurner days.

4. We are deliberate about connecting the Board and the Executive team, and the rest of the company. We encourage every director to have a direct relationship with every one of my direct reports. They connect both during and outside of meetings, and they have gotten to know each other well over the years. This is much more helpful to us than a more traditional “hourglass” structure where all connections go through the CEO.

5. We run great meetings. We send out a single, well-organized document several days before the meeting. Board members read this document and come to the meeting prepared to have a dialogue about what is in it. We focus on current and future issues more than reporting on historical numbers, and we no longer do any slide presentations — it’s all discussion (I also wrote about a lot of this here in PowerPointLess).

Welcome to the Return Path family, Scott P – we are delighted to have you on board our Board!

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