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Don’t Kiss the Blarney Stone


What better day than St. Patrick’s Day to share the story of the Blarney Stone? One favored tradition involves Cormac Laidir McCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle. 

It’s the 1400’s and McCarthy is summoned to court for a lawsuit. The night before he is to appear, he prays to Clíodhna, the patron of County Cork and goddess of love and beauty.  Clíodhna instructs McCarthy to kiss the first stone he encounters on the way to court. The next morning, he follows her advice (after all, she is a goddess). Magically, he is bestowed with the gift of great eloquence and wins his case! Thankful, McCarthy brings the stone back to Blarney Castle and mounts it in a north wall battlement. The legend spreads that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone will be endowed with the gift of great eloquence. Today, thousands make the pilgrimage to Blarney Castle to precariously lean backwards over a 3×5-foot gap atop the northern parapet — hundreds of feet above the ground — to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Fun story, right? But how does this help you in your board member searches?  

  1. Guard against “self” blarney. Before you begin interviewing and possibly get wrapped up in “beguiling talk,” make sure you clearly define the qualifications  of your ideal candidate. That way you’ll avoid being seduced by the “nice-to-haves” of eloquent candidates and instead focus on the “must-haves” that will deliver the performance your investment requires.  
  2. Don’t engage in blarney. It’s critical that PE investors and portfolio company executives are open and honest about their roles in the search process.  Who is authorized to interview candidates? Who is not? How will the decision be made: open caucus, secret ballot, unanimous voting, etc.? Clearly define your compensation package so that all parties know exactly what to expect. Also, be upfront about board member obligations. For example, do you want the candidate to participate in quarterly meetings? Weekly conference calls? Finally, spell out any other considerations: e.g., are they expected to replace a current board member or executive at the portfolio company? Do you need them to make introductions to their network of contacts for a future exit sale? 
  3. Beware of blarney. A common definition of blarney is “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk.” Make sure the answers you get from candidates can be independently confirmed. For example, if a candidate claims fantastic revenue growth or extraordinary profit margins at a previous position, trust but verify.  Check with former colleagues, industry source, or other knowledgeable third parties to make sure that “great eloquence” isn’t masking “empty flattery.” 

Want more ways you can upgrade board member searches. Read our white paper: “A Practical Guide to Board Member Searches”. Or download, the “45-Second Checklist for Board Member Searches.”

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