Who Gets a Seat at the Table? A Field Study of the Director Selection
No board of directors can function effectively without a rigorous selection process to
properly attract and choose the very best candidates. However, in a recent review of the
literature, Withers, Hillman and Cannella (2012) concluded that what this stream of research
most needs are systematic field studies of the actual selection process. This study responds to
that call by conducting field interviews with 10 director candidates discussing both successful
and unsuccessful director selection processes in 34 different selection events for public firms in
the USA. These 10 directors had collectively held 88 board seats. All of the interviews were
conducted in 2015. In addition, we interviewed three recruiters to validate our findings.
Specifically, we show that candidate expertise and social networks coupled with certain
contingency factors collectively influence the outcome of this process.
This study offers insights to both firms seeking directors and executive candidates
seeking director positions by providing insights on how the director selection process actually
works. It reveals that director expertise and professional networks are central, but the process is
slowly becoming more formal and transparent over time. Unique insights are advanced for
boards seeking to expand their gender diversity as well, highlighting the central role of the CEO
in this process.
The director selection process is largely a black box which has not yet been investigated
in detail. Recently, some studies have begun to explore this process from the firm’s perspective.
This study explores this process from the perspective of the director candidates. Together, these
two streams highlight the shortcomings of structural solutions to problems associated with
corporate governance since these practices, such as independent nominating committees, are
shown to have minimal impact on this selection process.
Keywords: Outside Directors, Director Selection Process, Gender Diversity, Director Expertise
*An earlier version of this research was presented at the 2017 Strategic Management Society meeting held in
Houston, Texas. This article is currently being revised in consultation with Orhun Guldiken and William Q. Judge;
please contact Cynthia Clark at email@example.com for more information. Please do not cite without permission.