Having served on a number of different boards, including three electronics industry organizations, and currently a community nonprofit, I am happy to share my board of directors journey.
By Marie Cole, SWE Life Member
Are you interested in serving on the board of directors for an organization and curious to know more before committing? Are you interested in learning about being a board member before joining? I have found it to be the best of both worlds, an opportunity to grow professionally and personally.
It helps to be involved in an organization before joining its board. For example, I was active for more than 10 years in the Surface Mount Technology Association (SMTA), an international network of professionals who build skills, share practical experience, and develop solutions in electronics manufacturing, before running for its board. I presented and taught at SMTA technical conferences and chapter meetings, as well as served on a student grant committee. I benefited significantly, both professionally and personally, from SMTA programs and member network. Serving on the board provided an opportunity to give back to the SMTA community. In addition, an industry board position enhanced my external eminence for my nomination as an IBM Distinguished Engineer.
My campaign for the SMTA board seat focused on:
- Fostering collaboration with other industry and academic organizations
- Contributing to the enhancement of educational and conference programs
- Expanding the international presence and influence of the organization
Expanding my knowledge and insight
I was pleased to be elected to the SMTA board in 2007 and re-elected in 2010, serving the maximum two terms. During my service, we pursued my goals for the organization with continuing growth in these areas. Serving on the planning committee exposed me to the many challenges of running a global, member-driven organization. I learned about corporate finances through my term as treasurer and helped the organization weather the 2008 financial crisis by assuring adequate financial reserves. This improvement in resilience had a lasting impact, including managing through the recent pandemic. As vice president of technical programs, I gained insight into the logistics of organizing large events beyond my previous experience as a speaker and committee member.
The support of your employer for time and travel is important. My obligations included attending two annual face-to-face board meetings and two virtual meetings. Each board member also works with local SMTA chapters. Board members are also expected to serve on at least one committee and attend a range of events. As my second term on the SMTA board concluded, I encouraged an IBM colleague in his successful election to the board.
That initial experience positioned me for the subsequent opportunities to serve on the board of directors for the High Density Packaging (HDP) User Group (2013-2014), followed by the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI) (2014-2021). Both electronics industry consortia focus on developing collaborative solutions to technical challenges to benefit member companies, with iNEMI also driving industry roadmapping. IBM’s executive membership in the HDP User Group includes a seat on the board of directors, while iNEMI member companies may submit a nomination, typically a technical or management executive, for election to the board.
It helped that I had experience with the organizations prior to my board service and was initially nominated to each board by an IBM predecessor.
My board positions with these organizations further expanded my industry networks and external eminence. It also benefited IBM, as I used my positions to influence projects and the industry. In both cases, I encouraged involvement by my IBM colleagues and nominated my board successors with benefit to their external eminence and networks.
Personal passion can also drive a decision to join a board. As a breast cancer survivor, much of my community volunteer work has supported cancer-related nonprofit organizations. One community organization close to my heart is the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation. I’ve been involved with the foundation since 2013, volunteering at and attending walks, runs, and other fundraising events. In 2016, I was humbled to be recognized as an honoree at the annual Fun Run. As I neared retirement after a 30-plus-year career with IBM, I looked for opportunities to expand my involvement in Miles of Hope. I joined the scholarship committee since I had some experience judging student applications with the SMTA. When an opening was available earlier this year, I was honored to accept my first nonprofit board position. I am continuing to learn more about nonprofit organizations, but my previous industry board experiences provide a strong foundation. My participation promises to be personally fulfilling and beneficial to the organization and the community.
If you are interested in serving on a board of directors, I recommend that you:
- Become active in a variety of the organization’s initiatives
- Look for mentors and sponsors who have served that organization
- Get support from your company and/or your family for the time that you will devote
Then — go for it!
Marie Cole, a recently retired IBM systems distinguished engineer, is an experienced SWE speaker on mentoring and career development. She is a recognized industry expert in electronic packaging materials, focusing on environmental initiatives and reliability. She holds degrees in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and materials science from Columbia University. Cole, a SWE life member, received the Spark Award in 2017.