Serena’s Hot Seat
I have had numerous up-close moments with the legend that is Serena Williams, but usually in a crowded room with 20 or so other journalists. Nonetheless, a seat close enough to have formed some opinions about this remarkable woman.
For more than 10 years I have followed her on the pro tour and have always wished her well, even though she doesn’t need it. I can’t tell her how to win a match or what went wrong when she didn’t. She is the supreme master of all the surfaces on which the game of tennis is played, and with more Grand Slams to her name than anyone else on the professional tour (I include the men here,) Serena Williams is the greatest to have ever played the sport in my humble opinion.
The one thing I have learned about Williams is that she likes surprises. She has just joined the board at SurveyMonkey.com. The other thing that strikes me about her is, she does take advice.
The commentators wrote her off some years ago. I remember some of the headlines: “Freakish Serena” roared one and then came the majestic open letter from Chris Evert questioning her commitment to the game. The doubters were everywhere, but I don’t include Chris Evert in that. She has always believed in Williams.
I have been more in business than journalism and have sat on many more boards than I have had hot dinners. I feel qualified to dispense advice to anyone about the world of business. So here goes:
Congratulations. You will be an excellent director, of that I am in no doubt. Here are some tips to hopefully help you be exactly that.
The first piece of advice is to make sure you read the legal duties a director holds as a member of a board of directors. The duties are serious and carry legal obligations and can come with liabilities too. Don’t always assume that because a business is large it is well run. Remember Enron. Second, always read the board papers, and if you need more information before decisions are made, ask for more papers. Third, constantly ask about cash flow. How much cash the company holds versus how much debt the company has. Make a point of touring the office and talk to employees about what they do, and how they do it. In other words, be sure to learn as much as possible about the business. The receptionists know everything- especially who gets on well with whom and so forth- so please don’t overlook them on route to and from board meetings.
I have one final observation: online polling companies can only target other people that are online. Four billion people have no internet coverage. Remember that it’s the minority that do and the young are disproportionately over represented in theses polls because they use online surveys more liberally. The older generation get forgotten. Ask Survey-monkey how this challenge is being dealt with.
I wish you well with your new directorship and with your ambition to speak up for minorities in your new capacity. It’s a voice that many would do well to heed. -Derek Laud