Advisory Boards Offer Wisdom, Ideas

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I'm not given to bragging, but I think the facts say I'm a successful entrepreneur. I've started several companies that are thriving and growing, and even landed on the Inc. 5000 list. So what made me decide to create an advisory board?

I recently held the first meeting of the advisory board for our SafeVisitor company, and was so pleased with the results that I’m establishing similar boards for our other companies. These are not boards of directors who have a direct stake in the financial well-being of the businesses. Instead, they’re primarily outsiders who have nothing direct to gain and owe no allegiance to our company.

They bring knowledge, expertise, and most of all, a completely different perspective to what we do for our clients. SafeVisitor is a visitor-management company that controls access and monitors the locations of visitors, primarily for school districts and companies. The organizations using SafeVisitor’s system want to know who is entering their facilities and whether they pose a threat to the people inside.

Some businesspeople I’ve known like to see themselves as the brightest people in the room, but I learned long ago that I get a lot farther when I surround myself with people who are smarter than me. So when I developed the advisory board, I identified experts who looked at security issues in ways my team may not.

For example, one member is a veteran Secret Service agent who has protected some of the most powerful people in the world. He thinks about threats in an entirely different way than a member who is a former law enforcement officer that manages security for an urban school district. Another member of the board served as a U.S. Navy Seal before going to work for a database company. He was trained to breach the security of our enemies while protecting American interests. Another is a software engineer who develops cybersecurity solutions.

We put all those people around a table, throw out a question, and sit back and listen. The interplay between them is amazing -- and it’s fun to listen. Nobody in the room tries to impress anyone else. Instead, they’re learning from each other as we learn from them. The Secret Service agent has spent his entire career creating perimeters that keep the bad guys out, while the ex-Seal spent his time finding ways to sneak through perimeters created by our nation’s foes. Ask them what an elementary school can do to keep the wrong people away from students, then watch their interaction.

We currently have eight people on our board, but I anticipate that we’ll expand that to a dozen. Part of the reason is that we also want to address geographic issues. For example, we’re doing more business in the Pacific Northwest, and we can’t assume that the challenges Indiana businesses face are the same at those affecting companies in Washington State. We meet quarterly, and keep the meetings to an hour, because we’re conscious of their commitment and don’t want to intrude on their schedules.

Thinking about creating your own advisory board? Don’t do it if you’re convinced that you’re the smartest guy or gal in the room and only want someone to confirm that for you. If you want to be questioned, challenged, and pushed, you’re on the right track.

Choose your board’s members carefully. You don’t want people who just like to hear themselves talk. And you don’t want folks who are reluctant to speak up. You want thoughtful people who are comfortable in their own skin, who are accustomed to speaking candidly, and who are capable of disagreeing without becoming disagreeable. It’s a process that takes time. It took well over a year from when I decided to create the advisory board until our first meeting.

Yes, it takes a lot of time and energy to create and sustain advisory boards, but the value we receive from the effort is tremendous. We believe that the input we receive will help us become more effective at serving our customers, will guide us in properly structuring our company, and will keep our focus on develop innovative solutions to stay ahead of our competitors. I think that’s something that could benefit any business owner.

Mike McCarty is CEO of Danville-based Safe Hiring Solutions

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