Interacting with the Board as a CXO with Cristina Miller
Intro: Welcome to the Daily Bolster. Each day we welcome transformational executives to share their real world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.
Matt Blumberg: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. I'm Matt Blumberg, I'm the founder and CEO of Bolster, and I'm excited to be here today with Christina Miller. Christina is the Chief Operating Officer of Food E- Commerce Marketplace, GoldBelly. Prior to that, she was Chief Commercial Officer at First Dibs, an antique marketplace. She has lots of experience at other e- commerce and marketplace companies as well. Christina is also a member of our board of directors here at Bolster. So welcome to The Daily Bolster, Christina.
Christina Miller: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Matt Blumberg: Our topic today is CXO interactions with the company's board of directors. So executive team meets board. And I know, look, different CEOs have very different ideas and different work patterns about how their management teams can contribute to and interact with the board. Some are super controlling, some are really open. So I'd love to hear you just riff at the beginning here about what you've seen, as different experiences you've had working with different boards and CEOs, and kind of what are the pros and cons around those?
Christina Miller: Yeah, sure. That is interesting. It's a wide spectrum, and I've seen it done a number of different ways. And I've actually learned that probably a number of those ways are okay, even though I might have been a little more grounded or preferred, one or the other.
Matt Blumberg: Right, there's not an answer to the question.
Christina Miller: Exactly, there isn't necessarily one right answer. So, let's see. One of the earliest boards that I interacted with was at Guilt Group, and I was the person who, on Sunday night, had to send around the metrics from the week. Which, when I first was assigned that duty, was quite exciting and became less so fairly quickly as more Sundays passed. But that was interesting. I mean, that was a direct email communication of really important metrics and data, and occasionally people would write back and ask questions. And so everyone was CC'd. But that was one method that I saw. And in that board, I would sometimes go in and present along with other members who weren't directly on the management team. And then I've seen much more informal boards, actually, where the board presentation, and we might talk about this, for example, is just a bit organically put together, kind of last minute. And I've seen situations where it's really only in the board meeting that the management team is going to be interacting with the board, and everything is very tightly choreographed.
Matt Blumberg: So let's talk about the board meeting. When you are going to be on in a board meeting, how do you think about prep? Are you doing it on your own? Are you doing it with your CEO? Are you totally stressed out? How do you think about it?
Christina Miller: You're stressing me out. No, let's see. I think earlier on I would prep, when I was joining board meetings for the first, I would prep more. But in some ways, I think as the type of job, my day job evolved, I have found that my day job is more than enough prep, almost always, for a board meeting. And so what we might practice or prepare for in my last couple of jobs around a board meeting was really more around almost tactical things like timing. And because it is often a challenge, as you well know. You run a very tight board meeting, I must say, Matt. It's impressive. But I think it's tough to stay on schedule. And so actually, a lot of the practice that I've been around for more mature boards tends to be around how long we're going to spend on that. If we go into this, we're going to take that offline because it's a big topic. So I think I would say I get excited for board meetings now, as a COO. Because I think it's such a great opportunity to learn and get feedback from the board. But yeah, I used to get more nervous.
Matt Blumberg: I remember the first time I presented to a board before I was a CEO, when I was working at Movie Phone. And the experience was, it felt to me like the Supreme Court. I came in with 20 minutes of material prepared, and I got about three sentences out before the questions started coming, and everything I had prepared was thrown out the window.
Christina Miller: Right, exactly. And that's the other thing you learn is like you don't over prepare, because it's not going to go whichever way you wrote.
Matt Blumberg: So what's your best experience presenting to a board?
Christina Miller: Okay, well, I have one actually in mind. And what you just said reminded me of that. There are times when that can happen, and it can be really great, or it can be a little unsettling for the presenter or the team. One thing that we found at First Dibs was that our board dinners that we had, I think every other board meeting, were ended up being really great opportunities to actually cover some of the material in an informal way.
Matt Blumberg: Interesting. So David had the management team at board dinners all the time, or some of the time?
Christina Miller: Actually all of the time. So there would be a board dinner every other time. But at that dinner, the whole management team would join. And then it started, I think, sort of around the series B. And so we would talk informally. But as it became clear that when there was a sort of robust, when we were in a New York City room that we could hear each other at the board dinner, the board meeting the next day was super efficient. Because we had tackled some of the kind of meatier conversational topics at the dinner. And so there was this one time when we were making a really difficult decision about some policy changes, and we needed to really dive into almost narrate a story about what we learned. And then that was going to set up the board meeting. And so we did that at a restaurant on Park Avenue. We had a room. And it was mostly my area of the business. And so for me, it was a really great opportunity to tell and weave a story. And I actually sort of wrote a story. I'd never prepared this way for a board meeting, I wrote a Word document and sort of memorized it. And took people through this story of what the sellers were experiencing, what these antiques dealers were experiencing in the world and their businesses and how that related to First Dibs. And it was a really, really cool moment. And I felt like we communicated the information, there were great questions, and actually the whole management team then contributed as I was sort of weaving the story. So it was pretty cool.
Matt Blumberg: That's great. And so that is a great lead into my last question. Which is, one piece of advice for senior executives CXOs in dealing with their company's boards.
Christina Miller: Okay, well you sort of said it, but I would say expect the unexpected. And really just be prepared for the unexpected, knowing that your day job probably covers it. You don't need to be different or special in a board meeting, actually. So expect the unexpected, be ready for it.
Matt Blumberg: All right, Christina, thank you for being with us today.
Christina Miller: Thanks, Matt.
Expect the unexpected. From first communication to preparing to join a board meeting to sitting down for dinner with directors, Cristina Miller of Goldbelly shares her experience interacting with boards as a COO.
Her final piece of advice? Don’t expect the board meetings to go as planned, but remember your day job has likely prepared you for those unexpected moments.