Life has become hectic for Sarah Raiss in the two years since she became a member of two corporate boards. She regularly flies from her home in Calgary to Toronto for meetings of Shoppers Drug Mart Corp., and to Montreal, where she sits on the board of the Business Development Bank of Canada.
She's loving every minute.
"I've always wanted to be on corporate boards. I get to use my experience and there is a tremendous intellectual challenge. In the process, I'm learning a lot about how to become a better manager," said Ms. Raiss, whose full-time role is executive vice-president of corporate services for TransCanada Corp. in Calgary.
She's living the dream of a rapidly growing number of senior executives in Canada.
In the past year, the Institute of Corporate Directors has seen a 25-per-cent rise in executives enrolling in its director education program, a series of courses to prepare graduates for serving on a corporate board. There have been 488 graduates from the program this year, up from 308 in 2008-2009, said Stan Magidson, the institute's president and chief executive officer.
Nearly 2,000 people have taken training in Canada since the director program started at the University of Toronto in 2004 and it has expanded to universities in Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal and Vancouver. In addition there is a directors' education program at McMaster University in Hamilton.
However, getting on a board isn't as simple as feeling you're ready to serve. It's not a job you can apply for.
Board openings aren't typically posted publicly, so candidates must gain the attention of recruiters or board search committees through networking and reputation.
For that reason, managers should start laying the groundwork years before they actually intend to sit on a corporate board, advises Beth Oakes, managing partner of consultancy the Oakes Group in Toronto.
"It's not just a question of management experience; to succeed on the board you have to have governance experience and know how to ask the right questions," she said. Volunteer work on boards of associations and not-for-profit groups can provide excellent experience, she said.
Ms. Raiss said she began preparing more than a decade ago. "I served for years on boards in schools and hospitals and an art institute," which provided experience and contacts.
Even with experience, though, it can take time to land a corporate board seat. After she went through the ICD certification program in 2006 and Ms. Raiss let it be known to her contacts that she was available, it took two years to be recruited to a for-profit board.
However, demand for new board members appears to have picked up this year, as companies face a riskier economy and are under more scrutiny from regulators and investors, said Andrew MacDougall, a consultant with recruiter Spencer Stuart & Associates Canada Ltd. in Toronto.
According to Spencer Stuart's annual Board Index, the most desirable candidates for corporate boards are current or retired chief executive officers of leading Canadian companies, representing about half of the 600 directors named to boards of the 100 largest publicly traded companies in Canada.
It has become increasingly difficult to recruit serving CEOs for boards because the supply is limited and most CEOs already sit on more than one board, Mr. MacDougall said. Increasingly, boards of directors are recruiting those with other C-level experience - chief financial officers, chief operating officers, and the like - and other senior executives with experience in the company's industry.
For that reason, more first-timers are being named. Last year, 25 per cent of the board appointments were rookies, up from 14 per cent in 2005.
And while boards have long been seen as old boys' clubs, 26 per cent of directors last year were women, compared with 17 per cent in 2007. Women made up 21 per cent of all new board appointments from 2006 to 2008, up from 13 per cent from 2002 to 2005. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce currently leads the pack, with five of its 17 directors being women.
There is an increasing recognition that a board benefits from having a variety of skills and experiences, Mr. Magidson said.