Teachers Make Great Private Company Directors

Teachers Make Great Private Company Directors

When you think of the best candidate to be the chairman of the board for a global science and technology company you may not immediately think, “teacher.”

“Don’t knock it until you try it,” says Timothy Ellsworth, director and chair of the corporate governance and nominating committee at Ensign-Bickford Industries, Inc., about the teacher who sits in the top seat in the company’s boardroom.

Ensign-Bickford’s current chairman is Joseph E. Lovejoy, Jr., who has held the post since 2008. Before he took the job, Lovejoy was a teacher at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, Wash., a school focused on college preparation and the arts.

Having a teacher on the board is “a great model,” says Ellsworth, who spoke at our Private Company Governance Summit earlier this year on “Best Practices in Private Company Governance.”

Lovejoy is the son of the Ensign-Bickford’s former chairman, Joseph E. Lovejoy, and is a family board member who also chairs the board of Ensign-Bickford Realty Corporation.

“He had no preconceptions about the business. There were no blinders or tunnel vision. He was very clear on what he didn’t know,” fifth-generation family member Ellsworth says about Lovejoy. “His style has become one of process. His goal is to get the best information and decisions out of his board.”

It’s a little like “herding cats,” getting the best out of directors and management at the company that traces it’s roots back 180 years, he quips.

Finding directors that are unexpected as far as their background is a theme we hit home in this issue of Private Company Director highlighted in a story written by senior editor April Hall titled “Not All Board Members Need MBAs.” In the piece we find out why the owner of Barry-Wehmiller, a $2.5-billion family business, sought out an intellectual with a government background and little business experience.

Clearly, private companies also need to find board members with the expertise and skills to address specific needs, as another article in this issue by Family Business magazine’s editor Barbara Spector, “Family and Board Dynamics at a $3 Billion Enterprise,” elucidates. The piece is about The Duchossois Group, a 102-year-old family company, and the make-up of board members mirrors business needs:

Three of the independent directors with sophisticated investment experience serve as an advisory board to the CEO of the investment company, and three independent directors who understand marketing technology, consumer products and mass merchandising serve the CEO of the group’s consumer products company in an advisory board capacity.

It’s all about finding the right director match for the company’s needs and culture. 

It’s important, Ellsworth says, to find directors who move the company forward strategically, but their most important contribution is pushing management, and other board members, to question the status quo. He often goes to board meetings thinking he’s prepared, but the other directors always end up making him think outside the box.

“The technologist brought a perspective that never crossed my mind; and someone who’s good at merger and acquisitions, their perspective is totally different.”

Indeed, a different perspective might be the best way to herd cats.

Let us know how boards have helped take your organization to the next level. Contact me at eve@directorsandboards.com