Skip to main content

Corporate Boards
Part 7

By September 6, 2023No Comments

image with arrows and word selection superimposed


In the previous blog, I described my selection for membership on the governing boards for Russell Corporation, Eastman Chemical Company, and Logility. Now, I share my selections for membership on the governing boards for Motorola and J. B. Hunt Transport Services.

MOTOROLA: In 1994, while I was serving as Georgia Tech’s engineering dean, Ferdinand Nadherny, with Russell Reynolds Associates in Chicago, contacted me to gauge my interest in serving on the Motorola board. We knew each other, having been together several times at Renaissance Weekend, an event held on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina over New Year’s. Nadherny was tasked with locating a university-based person with a technology background who would be a good fit for Motorola. The person would replace Erich Bloch, formerly with IBM and a former Director of the National Science Foundation.

Nadherny didn’t know Bloch recruited me to lead the Engineering Directorate at NSF. Also, he didn’t know another Motorola director, Walter E. Massey, was Erich’s successor at NSF and I worked with him before returning to Georgia Tech; also, I’d met Walter years before at Renaissance Weekend. Finally, he didn’t know I’d interacted with four other members of the Motorola board: H. Laurence Fuller, Robert W. Galvin, Thomas J. Murrin, and John E. Pepper Jr.

Given my experience on the Russell board, I arrived early for my first Motorola board meeting. When I entered the room, Murrin was present. I asked if there was a particular chair for me, as a new director. Murrin said people sat in different places, but the four chairs at one end of the room were usually occupied by the chairman of the board, the CEO, the COO, and the CFO. He suggested I not sit in one of those chairs.

As I started to move toward a chair, Murrin said, “By the way, when you go into the break room, you’ll find an impressive assortment of food and beverages. However, you will see there is a single white powder sugar doughnut. Don’t eat it. It’s for Bob Galvin.” Murrin went on to say, wherever the board met, there would always be a white powder sugar doughnut for Galvin.

Upon entering the break room, I discovered Murrin was correct, the assortment of food was extensive and there was one very large white powder sugar doughnut on a platter. It looked so very enticing, but I resisted and didn’t eat it. However, I more fully understood the temptations Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden.

Years later, I sat next to Bob Galvin at a board meeting and told him the story of my first sighting of his doughnut. Galvin laughed. At the next meeting, when I entered the break room, there was a large platter filled with white powder sugar doughnuts. I chose one, but when I took the first bite, most of the white powdered sugar got on my coat and tie. It didn’t taste nearly as good as it looked. In fact, I wondered if it truly was Galvin’s favorite. Maybe it wasn’t, but he didn’t want to disappoint staff members by pointing it out. He was very much a gentleman.

J. B. HUNT: Soon after becoming UA’s chancellor, I was asked by a member of the executive team at J. B. Hunt Transport Services if I’d consider joining its board. My logistics background and service on a number of boards of public corporations were appealing to members of J. B. Hunt’s board. Again, relationships led to my selection; nearly all members of the executive team were UA alumni.

As with the Russell and Motorola boards, for my first meeting of the J. B. Hunt board, I lingered where food and beverages were located and waited for all participants to take seats. Because there were more chairs around the boardroom table than participants, there were several empty chairs, so I chose one. Over my 18-year board tenure, most people tended to sit in the same relative location around the table. Directors, like most people (including students in my classes) are creatures of habit and gravitate toward the chairs where they sat in previous meetings.

Based on processes resulting in my corporate board selections, it’s easy to understand why people believe the old boys’ network is the vehicle by which corporate boards are formed. However, I observed that networking is not the only way directors are selected. With the J. B. Hunt Transport board, multiple times, a person contacted the board chair, expressed interest in serving on the board, provided sufficient justification for being selected, and was subsequently elected to serve. In all instances, they proved to be effective directors.


Next Week: Higher Education and Nonprofit Boards

Leave a Reply