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Roundtable Series: Enthusiasm for a cause is essential for board
 
Published Thursday, March 28, 2019


Twelve South Florida chief executives gathered for a CEO Roundtable at the Business Journal’s Miami offices on March 14. Jock Fistick/South Florida Business Journal

By Ashley Portero  – Reporter, South Florida Business Journal 

As the leader of a company, chief executive officers usually don’t have a lot of time to spare.

That’s why serving on a board can be an ideal way for CEOs to carve out time for philanthropic causes close to their hearts.

Serving on a volunteer board requires a commitment beyond showing up for meetings. Board members not only need to be advocates for the nonprofit they serve; they’re also responsible for overseeing the organization’s finances, governance and collaborating with others to make crucial decisions about the direction of the organization.

Twelve South Florida CEOs reflected on these topics and more during a March 14 CEO Roundtable hosted at the South Florida Business Journal’s Brickell offices. Moderated by Editor-in-Chief Mel Meléndez, the event was part of the Business Journal’s Roundtable series, where CEOs, CFOs and HR directors offer an inside look at topics of keen interest to readers. The conversation was presented by Comcast Business, with corporate sponsor Randstad Professionals and associate sponsor the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

MEET THE PANEL

Tony Argiz, Chairman and CEO, MBAF Certified Public Accountants and Advisors
1450 Brickell Ave., Miami 33131 (305) 373-5500 targiz@mbafcpa.com

Andrew Duffell, President and CEO, Research Park at Florida Atlantic University
3651 FAU Blvd., Suite 400, Boca Raton 33431 (561) 416-6092  aduffell@research-park.org

Ginger Martin, President and CEO, American National Bank
4301 N. Federal Highway, Oakland Park 33308   (954) 267-9108 gmartin@americannationalbank.com

Thomas Miller, CEO, Miller Construction Company                                                                           
614 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale 33308 (954) 764-6550 tmiller@millerconstruction.com

Dev Motwani, President and CEO, Merrimac Ventures
2455 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale 33304 (954) 368-4203 dev@merrimacventures.com

Eduardo Padrón, President, Miami Dade College
300 N.E. Second Ave., Miami 33132 (305) 237-3109 epadron@mdc.edu

Olga Ramudo, President and CEO, Express Travel 
299 Alhambra Cir, Ste 501, Coral Gables 33134 (305) 341-1200 oramudo@expresstravelus.com

Joseph Saka, CEO, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants
200 S. Biscayne Blvd., 7th floor, Miami 33140 (305) 960-1262 jsaka@bpbcpa.com

Rachel Sapoznik, President and CEO, Sapoznik Insurance 
1100 N.E. 163rd St., North Miami Beach 33162 (877) 948-8887 rachels@sapoznik.com

Penny Shaffer, South Florida market president, Florida Blue
8600 N.W. 36th St., Suite 800, Doral 33166 (305) 921-7055 penny.shaffer@bcbsfl.com

Bob Swindell, President and CEO, Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance 
110 E. Broward Blvd., Ste 1990, Fort Lauderdale 33301 (954) 627-0131 bswindell@gflalliance.com

William Talbert III, President and CEO, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau
701 Brickell Ave., Suite 2700, Miami 33131 (305) 539-3040 talbert@gmcvb.com

Serving on a volunteer board of directors can be a personally and professionally rewarding service – when it goes well.

According to panelists at the Business Journal’s recent CEO Roundtable, that’s why it is essential for executives to consider their own skill sets, passions and motivators before agreeing to join the board of a nonprofit or charitable organization.

The majority of board members serve as volunteers without any compensation, according to the National Council of Nonprofits.

But compensated or not, board members play key roles in providing guidance to an organization’s culture, strategic focus and financial sustainability.

Cross-examine your motives

Ginger Martin, CEO of American National Bank, said executives should always consider why they want to serve before agreeing to join a board.

“Some people join because they’re devoted to the cause, but others might want to serve, in name at least, to forge professional relationships,” she said. “Remember, this is a commitment. For that reason, I think it’s better to go in with your heart and let relationships follow.”

Miller Construction Co. CEO Tom Miller said he looked to his own upbringing when he decided which nonprofit board to serve on.

“The first non-industry nonprofit I joined was the Boys and Girls Club because I knew they helped me when I was kid,” he said.

Most of the panelists agreed that having a passion for a cause is the top factor to consider before joining a board.

For those who find it difficult to find a nonprofit that meets that criteria, Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants CEO Joseph Saka advised signing on to a cause championed by friends or family.

“I like to find causes my kids are interested in, which are often education related,” he said. “That also brings a family aspect to the service.”

Board service can diversify relations

Serving on a board can improve an individual’s governance, networking, communication, decision-making and strategic planning skills, according to Korngold Consulting’s 2018 Nonprofit Board Leadership Study.

It can also force CEOs to interact with individuals from industries outside of their own, an experience that William D. Talbert III, CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, said is invaluable.

“We can get stuck in our little boxes,” he said. “Serving on a board gives you an opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t on a normal day and those relationships can last a lifetime.”

Bob Swindell, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, said it’s an unwritten rule that Alliance members must be involved in an outside organization.

“It gives a different perspective on leadership and forces you to excel in an area not directly tied to your employment,” he said.

Almost all of the panelists said they learned valuable lessons in leadership and communication by serving on boards. But Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, said developing empathy may be the most valuable lesson executives can take away from their board service.

“As executives, most of us don’t come face-to-face with suffering on a daily basis,” he said. “When you join certain organizations, you’re confronted with the very real needs of our community, and you become more sensitive to them.”

All employees can benefit 

Employees who serve on a nonprofit board describe themselves as being better leaders and feeling better qualified for a promotion within two years of board service, a Nonprofit Board Leadership Study report indicates.

First-time members typically advance to a leadership position on the board within two years, the study said.

But it’s not easy for younger employees to get a place on the board of their choice.

“You need experience to get [there],” MBAF CEO Tony Argiz said. “It’s not something you can do right out of college.”

In fact, most board members are recruited for their credibility and track record of service to a particular cause, the panelists said. While that doesn’t always discount younger employees, Padrón said they might be disadvantaged when weighed against more experienced alternatives.  

But it’s important to ensure younger employees can envision their own path to the boardroom, Sapoznik Insurance CEO Rachel Sapoznik said.

She added that employers should encourage that through mentorships and professional development opportunities.

“We try to expose [younger team members] to different people and events that can stimulate their knowledge and build those leadership skills,” she said.

In the end, it’s important for employees to know they don’t have to wait to be at the top of their field before they start giving back, said Andrew Duffell, CEO of the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University.

“That’s something that’s part of the culture right from the get-go for companies at the Research Park,” he said. “They don’t need permission to serve.”

Volunteering can bring staffs together

Companies that volunteer together ultimately work better together.

That’s according to 12 South Florida CEOs who recently participated in an SFBJ roundtable discussion on the benefits of serving on nonprofit boards.

Deloitte’s 2017 Volunteerism Survey suggests that 70 percent of employees believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours.

Similarly, 89 percent said companies that encourage volunteering have a better working environment than companies that do not.

Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón said that, for employees of large institutions, coming together to support a particular cause or charitable organization can offer a sense of cohesiveness that links staff, managers and leadership.

“Employees feel proud knowing they’re working together to get things done,” he said. “We see that every year with several causes we support. It brings people together.”

For example, staff across the college’s eight campuses come together each year to raise money for the United Way of Miami-Dade.

Working together to support a cause can also help staff forget about the workplace hierarchy and connect at a more authentic level, said Rachel Sapoznik, President and CEO of Sapoznik Insurance.

“It’s a great equalizer,” she said. “When team members are leading these efforts, it helps them feel like they’re on the same level as the CEO because everyone is working to make a difference.”

Because it isn’t always possible for an entire team to volunteer at the same time or place, Florida Blue offers each employee eight hours of paid volunteer time per year, South Florida Market President Penny Shaffer said.

The company also has a volunteer portal where employees can locate organizations in need of extra help – something that’s earned high marks from staff in employee surveys.

“When I look at the comments, what resonates with staff is that we walk the walk,” Shaffer said. “Employees see that we want to serve the community, and they’re proud of that.”

It’s normal to feel too busy to serve, CEOs say

CEOs are often lacking in one crucial area: free time.

Chief executives work an average of almost 10 hours a day on weekdays, 3.9 hours a day on weekends, and sleep less than seven hours a night, according to a 2018 report from the Harvard Business Review. Those numbers do not include time delegated to family, friends and self-care, let alone the myriad of responsibilities that come with serving on a nonprofit board.

“It’s a balancing act,” Express Travel President and CEO Olga Ramudo said during a recent CEO Roundtable hosted by the South Florida Business Journal.“The time commitment might be larger than you anticipate at the beginning, but if you feel you’re working for a worthwhile cause, time isn’t an excuse.”

If a leader is on the board of a cause he or she truly believes in, that leader will find a way to integrate it into their schedule, like any other important event in their life, said Joseph Saka, CEO of Berkowitz Pollack Brant Advisors and Accountants.

“You always think, ‘I’ll never have time for kids,’ ‘I’ll never have time to volunteer,’” Saka said. “Like anything else, you have to make it a priority.”

Making a commitment to a board may still feel overwhelming, no matter how good the cause. When faced with that dilemma, Antonio “Tony” Argiz, chairman of the board and CEO of MBAF, advises leaders to take the long view.

“If you devote just 1 percent of your annual work hours to a board, that’s about 30 hours,” he said. “That’s all you need.”

Sometimes, an executive needs to set limits on their time to preserve their health, business and relationships – especially at a company’s startup phase, Merrimac Ventures CEO Dev Motwani said. 

There are phases when it’s necessary for CEOs to devote their complete attention to their organization – and there’s no shame in that, he said.

“I know I have more time to give back now than I did when I was busy launching my business,” he said. “I don’t think that service means less now because I wasn’t doing it 10 years ago.”

QUOTABLES

What did you find most surprising or challenging about serving on a nonprofit board?

“Probably collaboration. The ability to come together for a common cause and seeing what you can accomplish together.” – Penny Shaffer

“It’s not about the money; it’s about how you can make a difference.” – Joseph Saka 

“The surprising part was that one person can truly  make a difference.” – Bill Talbert

“The power of consensus building.” – Ginger Martin

“Just seeing the need out there and figuring how you can help people is powerful.”– Tony Argiz

“Knowing that people in need have gotten into difficult situations for complex reasons. There is such great need out there, and it could be any one of us tomorrow.” – Andrew Duffell

What’s been your most valuable lesson learned from sitting on a nonprofit board?

“It’s important to identify why you’re there and why the organization is there. If you can do that, it can be a wonderful experience where you can make real change.” – Eduardo Padrón 

“The caliber of people willing to give their time, which isn’t nothing. The time commitment is often double what you expect, and the pocketbook contribution is usually three times larger.” – Olga Ramudo

“What I find fascinating is how a few dedicated board members can have such an impact on a community. The opposite is true, as well. Boards that are not functioning or working cohesively can end up spinning wheels and not accomplishing what they need.” – Rachel Sapoznik

“On a board you might be with peers, clients and mentors. While there’s a common vision, there can be a lot of disagreements, which could put you in an awkward position. But you need to have that healthy discussion, even if it makes life outside of the boardroom uncomfortable.” – Dev Motwani 

“The passion that people have for helping others was surprising, to some extent, early on.” – Tom Miller

For me, having been a small-business owner, you pretty much dictate the direction. On a board, you’re with other peers and you need to collaborate and come to a consensus.” – Bob Swindell 

 


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