Champion athlete and tennis icon Serena Williams recently added a new title to her long list of accomplishments: the newest member of SurveyMonkey’s board. According to SurveyMonkey’s website, Serena Williams is an “accomplished entrepreneur and one of the most recognizable global icons in the world.” She is “an activist, marketer, brand builder, and greatest athlete of our time.”
Williams, who intends on tackling the tech industry’s lack of diversity, is a welcome and much-needed addition to Silicon Valley leadership. Of course, most of us don’t have Serena Williams’ lofty achievements – either on or off the court. And she is not the first celebrity to join a corporate board. For example, Chelsea Clinton recently joined Expedia’s board and Arianna Huffington currently serves on Uber’s board. However, Serena Williams’ qualifications and journey toward board service uniquely highlight the skills that prospective directors should consider developing for corporate board service.
Strong Record of Achievements
Serena Williams is best known as an iconic tennis athlete, and that reputation is backed by a wealth of achievements. She has won the most Grand Slam singles titles in history, including her most recent win at the 2017 Australian Open. Williams has twenty-three Grand Slam singles titles as well as fourteen Grand Slam doubles titles. Serena Williams is clearly an achiever – she has a long, deep, and well-documented history of consistently performing, exceeding, and doing the impossible.
Winning a Grand Slam is not in the cards for most prospective directors. But a prospective director can emulate her reputation-building success. A prospective director should invest time determining how to tell their own career story. They should portray a long, deep, and well-documented history of consistently performing, exceeding, and doing the impossible in their area of expertise.
Strategic Business Acumen
Williams has also developed a prominent business presence off the court. According to her SurveyMonkey board profile, “As a strategic partner, investor and innovator, Serena has propelled her influence off the court and into the business world.” To describe Serena Williams as merely an athlete is an understatement. She has had numerous successful business adventures and collaborations that demonstrate her business influence.
Similarly, prospective directors should create a clear record of business acumen and influence in their board-related papers and board interviews. Even if a prospective director has previously held fewer strictly business roles, it is important to think deeply about any business skills utilized in those roles. For example, a GC can avoid being seen as just a legal advisor by highlighting ways she has impacted her company’s business strategy.
Deep and Wide Influence, with Remarkable Versatility
Williams is also known for her forays into the fashion industry. After Williams released her HSN Signature Statement collection, VOGUE magazine named her a “Fashion Trendsetter.” Clearly, Serena Williams has been able to influence not only the world of tennis, but also the seemingly unrelated fashion world. The ability to shape an industry’s direction and community offers valuable insights and diverse perspective to any board. Williams also shows remarkable versatility – she can connect with both HSN audiences and high-fashion VOGUE editors.
In considering a board path, a prospective director should look for ways they have exhibited influence and versatility, both in their immediate industry and others. For example, all business professionals can focus on their efforts and connections within their industry, risk, crisis management, expansion execution, innovation, and numerous other board skills.
Positive Reputation, Goodwill, and Image
Serena Williams is also a dedicated philanthropist. According to SurveyMonkey’s website, “Serena started the Serena Williams Fund, is a global Goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and in the fall of 2016, she joined philanthropic forces with her sister Venus to establish the Williams Sister Fund where they launched their first endeavor in their hometown of Compton: the Yetunde Price Resource Center.” Serena Williams’ reputation, even beyond her athletic achievements, is overwhelmingly positive. And this positive association absolutely enhances her reputation and the reputation of the company where she serves.
Similarly, a prospective board member should consider what positive or well-recognized experiences they bring to the board. The ability to enhance a company’s reputation on day one, by presence and association alone, will absolutely enhance your chances of being selected.
Williams is also focused on influencing the world in a positive way. In February 2016, she partnered with the Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation to build a school in Jamaica. She has also funded and opened two schools in Africa. Serena Williams has demonstrated the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute not only within their own organizations, but also outside of the US. In other words, she is a world-wide leader.
A prospective director must also be able to show a leadership track record. This means not only holding leadership positions, but also demonstrating true leadership skills. For example, wise leaders make decisions by involving the right people, at the right time, in the right way. They also develop and use processes that keep people engaged and on track. Skilled leaders also recognize the power of shared decision-making and are able to fluently overcome ineffective decision-making. Proving these skills will elevate your board chances by showing that you are more than just a leader in title alone.
From her early success on the tennis court to her recent appointment to the SurveyMonkey boardroom, Serena Williams has demonstrated essential skills that all prospective directors should emulate. By focusing on how to portray a history of achievement, strategic business acumen, versatile influence, positive reputation, and world-wide leadership, prospective directors can make significant profess toward their own career Grand Slams.
Olga V. Mack has been disrupting the status quo and fighting for equality since she can remember. She is the founder of the WomenServeOnBoards.com movement making a fiscal and social case for gender equality on corporate boards. To stay deeply connected to her mission, Mack dedicates her time as an advisory board member for ChannelMeter and TimeJoy. As a startup enthusiast, she currently brings her passion for seeing her clients succeed and grow as general counsel at ClearSlide. Previously she held positions at Zoosk, Visa Inc., Pacific Art League of Palo Alto, California, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Katia Bloom, Associate General Counsel at ForgeRock, thrives on high-growth environments and challenging the notion that it can’t be done. She is the co-founder of two organizations, SunLaw and WISE, aimed at helping women achieve equality and success in the legal profession, is actively involved in the Association of Corporate Counsel, and frequently writes on topics related to technology, diversity and a myriad of other topics of interest to in-house counsel. She was recently recognized as a top ten in-house lawyer under 40 by the Association of Corporate Counsel.
Note: Our valued interviewees and Contributors speak in their own words and their views reflect their own opinions.