My Board Journey

Listen to article

Beverly Cole
Director: Bank OZK

Beverly Cole

Board service, whether it’s for a nonprofit organization or corporate entity, can provide professional growth opportunities and strengthen your personal brand. 

My first board experience was with several nonprofit and business chambers. I also served as a state commissioner and a state task force member. Founders First Capital was my first private venture fund board position, and Bank OZK is the first public board on which I have served. My experience has been that public and venture capital boards operate very differently from nonprofit boards. Instead of actively driving results, “noses in and fingers out” is commonly expected. The corporate board’s primary role is one of serving with oversight and acting in a fiduciary capacity.

The public board invitation was the result of a dinner meeting with 19 other women. It was hosted by Founders First and Bank OZK. After that dinner meeting, an invitation was extended to meet the CEO and other board members. Leaving those meetings, I felt both comfortable with the group and confident that I could work in a collaborative environment. 

I believe Bank OZK was interested in my bank regulatory experience. Initially, I had conducted some safety and soundness examinations for the FDIC, but the FDIC subsequently chose me to work on complex real estate structuring and asset marketing and disposition matters.

My interest in Bank OZK grew from my research, which revealed that the bank was a high-caliber financial institution with a driven culture focused on construction financing. I have several family members who have dabbled in real estate, including my father, who was the proprietor of one of the largest Black hotels in the South. During my professional career, I chose many real estate corporate positions that allowed me to develop expertise in mergers and acquisitions. These positions also allowed me to participate in conflict management processes to resolve stakeholder disputes to achieve successful real estate divestitures and to be involved in real estate deal structuring, construction, commercial and affordable housing, and loan modification programs. 

My favorite cartoon character — the world’s most famous mouse, Mickey, and team —swayed me from a real estate-focused career. My new job at Disney involved strategic sourcing and was located in a much warmer climate than I had been working in. Moreover, I turned down a CFO position for a manufacturing company’s division to work where the sun always shines. But joining the board of Bank OZK meant I could return to complex real estate transactions and familial roots.
When it comes to getting on a board, relationships and referrals are the keys. I encourage aspiring board members to rise as high as they can in their corporate structure. Results-driven, operational positions are preferred by recruiters for public board positions.
Personally, I look for a board that has an established positive culture and a group of highly competent people. I prefer a team that is congenial and welcomes various views and diverse input. It’s good to have board members from various backgrounds and experiences who are willing to share and ask questions. I am always eager to do the homework. The skill sets needed for corporate board service are an insatiable curiosity and a high level of energy to undertake the learning. During one board meeting, I remarked, “We are a bunch of Type-A people who have found our corporate family.”
On the lighter side, I try to bring laughter to the boardroom. One of the boards I serve on utilizes industry leaders to share innovations and developments in various industries. In one case, we were learning about recent agricultural developments. I have had many farming family members, so this area is dear to my heart. Before one board meeting, I studied the latest innovations in poultry farming to understand the nuances of the industry. We were talking about financeable assets, including the financing of real estate and chicken houses. I felt awkward for a moment, but I had to ask, “Who finances the chickens?” For the readers who do not know the answer, feel free to research it. My fellow board members broke into laughter about my chicken concerns. The lesson from this story: Be willing to laugh and learn together with your team of directors.

Today’s boards are faced with ever-changing risks. Board members continue to be concerned about the economic impact of geopolitical strife, monetary policy, increased cyberattacks, the pace of digital transformation and the increased costs of acquiring and training talent. Other risks include greater costs resulting from inflation and regulatory changes that negatively impact returns to investors and squash innovation. All corporations are concerned about the changes in shareholder and stakeholder sentiments.
The key to board service is to have a voracious appetite for learning, a love for research and a desire to ask questions that drive efficiencies, bottom-line results and maximum shareholder returns.

Other related articles

  • Behind the Record Number of Say-on-Pay Failures in 2022

    Published March 22, 2023
    By Bill Hayes

    Investors are showing no hesitancy to object to nonpreferred pay decisions and program features.

  • The Ups and Downs of C-Suite Compensation

    Published March 16, 2023
    By Bill Hayes

    A new report finds CEO and CFO base salaries increasing but bonuses on the decline.

  • What Directors Are Thinking

    Published March 14, 2023
    By Charles Zimmerman, DMin

    What Directors are Thinking

    Charles Zimmerman, DMin

    Independent Director: 
    Univest, Clemens Family Corporation

  • Don’t Drop the Baton: Talk More About CEO Succession Planning

    Published March 09, 2023
    By Naveen Bhateja

    With more than half of companies failing to plan for CEO succession, the topic needs to become more prevalent at meetings.

    In a relay race, dropping the baton is catastrophic. All the advantages and momentum gained up to that point in the race are lost. Even the most talented teams have a slim chance of recovering from a dropped baton.