Getting on board

Roger P. Sugarman finds it brings balance to his life.

Bea Wolper enjoys it so much she invested 600 hours of her time last year.

For Tanny Crane, it offers the opportunity to network, compare benchmarks with her own company and broaden her personal horizons.

The three have not found the secrets of a management guru or some hot, new CEO course.

However, each would encourage other executives to follow the same path: Volunteering to serve on the board of a nonprofit organization or another company.

“Most of the benefits, I have to say, have been in terms of meeting so many people I would never have had the opportunity to [meet] who are so committed and so concerned about what happens in Columbus,” says Sugarman, a partner with Kegler, Brown, Hill & Ritter. Sugarman is immediate past chair of the United Way of Franklin County board.

“You need to pass on whatever you can to help whoever you can,” says Wolper, a partner at Chester, Willcox & Saxbe LLP and a self-proclaimed “firm believer” in community service. “Community service should be as much a part of your life as earning a salary.”

Those in early, mid- or late careers alike can offer service on a board.

“It’s never to early to start passing on what you know,” Wolper says.

Choosing a board, she says, requires a passion for your cause.

“You’re not helping anybody by adding expertise, energy or your time unless you have a passion. If you have a passion for doing something, it will show,” says Wolper, who serves on the National Board of Attorneys for Family-Held Enterprises, International Women’s Forum, COSI, Greater Columbus News Bureau, League Against Child Abuse and other boards. “The boards you sit on will reap the benefits of your enthusiasm.”

“I’ve been asked to sit on a number of boards I admire and I respect but I don’t have a passion for,” echoes Crane. “I’m always flattered. It’s very flattering to be asked to be on a board.”

Crane, president and CEO of Crane Plastics Holding Co., serves on the boards of Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University; the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce; Bank One, Columbus; Federal Reserve Bank Business Advisory Council; and Society of Plastics Industry. She also is president-elect of the board of Action for Children, a special passion of hers.

In addition, Crane served as the 1999 campaign chair and sits on the board of the local United Way, an organization that’s had her attention for years.

“My dad had been involved on the United Way board, I think from the late ’60s or early ’70s, and was a general campaign chair in ’74,” she says. “I followed him exactly 25 years later. I think it was born in my system.”

However, Crane adds, she must balance her time. She and her husband have agreed to try to limit themselves to two nonprofit boards each because those often take more time than for-profit or professional boards due to fund-raising.

“I really want to be involved. I don’t want to be a name on a letterhead,” Crane says.

When you volunteer for a board or are asked to serve on one, Crane says, ask lots of questions. How much time is required? Must I donate money? How many times does this board meet? Do I need to raise money? Will I be required to serve on a committee?

She also suggests seeking the input of current board members.

Sugarman, who also serves on the boards of Leadership Columbus and Columbus School for Girls, has seen board service from the opposite side; he served on the United Way’s board nominating committee.

Despite the time these commitments take, these executives agree they reap more benefits from serving on a board than simply the satisfaction of serving the community. Wolper says proving your dedication to the board by following through with promises on a timely basis helps with this.

“People see you doing that in that capacity and will say, ‘That person must do that also in their business capacity.’ In their minds, then, you become a person who does what they say and has good judgment,” Wolper says.

Sugarman says service on a board has given him the opportunity to see a different perspective than that which lawyers might bring to the table.

“It’s enabled me in my own law firm to see how those goals and objectives can drive an organization and really help you achieve what is at the heart of what your business is supposed to be about,” he says.

Crane has found volunteering serves as a pivotal step to other boards or opportunities, and individuals interested in making a career change might find something of interest through serving on a board.

She sees her service as a way to broaden her own horizons. For example, the Bank One board gives her insights into the banking industry that she might not have otherwise. She can find out, through other boards, what’s being done about financing, retention, productivity or cost reductions and benchmark her company against others. She also keeps in touch with the issues of a growing community.

“We happen to be on the Southeast side of Columbus,” Crane says of her company. “I could be in a cocoon down here, but being on boards, I see what’s happening in the city.

“I really believe,” she adds, “in this generation, we really need to step up to the plate and take ownership of what we’re going to do with our community.”

Joan Slattery Wall ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.