Throughout June, Shailesh and Kevin have shared their insights related to everything leading up to a board meeting.  In this final biotech board discussion, they give their perspective on the meeting itself.  This quick read makes it’s easy to realize how all of the previous discussions tie into running an effective board meeting.

Below is a condensed and edited version of a dialogue between Kineticos Founder and CEO, Shailesh Maingi, and Kevin Hampton, Chief Commercial Officer at Kineticos.

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Kevin: Running an effective board meeting is not an easy task for a CEO.  There is a lot of preparation required and often times, running the day-to-day of their business takes priority over spending the necessary time on board meetings.   More times than not, this results in an unproductive and disappointing meeting.

Assuming a board is made up of individuals who can help, and you only have 4 hours with them every quarter, I know I would want to make sure to get maximum value out of their time.  Shailesh, before getting into how to optimally run a board meeting, can you first share your experience in participating and running board meetings?  Are they generally productive, or more of a formality and a matter of checking a box?  Perhaps you can first help us understand what a productive or effective meeting means in terms of outputs?

Shailesh: I’ve been on a number of boards and I’ve had meetings that have been highly effective, and I’ve had meetings that you wonder why you’re even there. Much of this is based on a couple things. It has to do with the senior leadership, but also the investors of some of these private companies. I’ve seen scenarios where investors want to be very, very informal and basically a board meeting can turn into a meeting to converse and get to know people. Generally speaking, the meetings that have been most effective is when you make sure attendees have materials a few days ahead of time.

Also important is making sure that you are talking to the board members in-between board meetings to help them understand key priorities, issues, and opportunities. This helps build relationships and having good relationships with the board helps in a board meeting setting.  It’s absolutely critical that you can talk about any key priority with your board and it’s equally important for you to tell the board members what you expect of them.  If you don’t have a strong relationship with the board, it can be difficult to be candid.

The main thing to consider while you’re running a meeting is, the bigger the impact, the more focus it should get at a board meeting.  By the time everyone walks out of the room, there should be a consensus around the biggest agenda items.

Kevin: Being present, participating, preparing – let’s assume none of that happened. Paint me the picture of a completely unproductive board meeting.

Shailesh: It can be the whole gamut of what any unproductive meeting would look like. Board meetings are just much more critical in terms of strategy and forward-looking topics. The goal of a board meeting is to have a quorum of being able to discuss important issues and make decisions but if some of the necessary preparation that we’ve talked about does not get done, it is very difficult to run an effective 4-6 hour board meeting. The result of a poorly run board meeting is things are left undone or left undetermined, which means follow up meetings are needed.

Another variant is going through the entire slide deck – this is probably the most common way to run an ineffective board meeting. As we’ve discussed before, going through a deck slide by slide for 4 hours is not productive. Knowing the meeting participants are highly qualified, skilled, and successful individuals, the last thing you want to do is spend your time with them reviewing a deck they already reviewed as they were preparing for the meeting.  If you bore them, their attention drifts off to other things that are more important or more interesting to them. Keep in mind, a CEO is running a decision-making meeting, not an information sharing meeting.

Kevin: For the information sharing component, is it typically reviewing Key Performance Indicators, or can the information be shared in a creative way that ensures the high level individuals you have in the room don’t get too caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day?

Shailesh: The way you engage talented individuals is by asking them to help solve your most difficult problems.  They don’t want to be talking about how to recruit a new head of HR, for example. That would more than likely be boring to them. They’re interested in helping address big issues.  For a biotech, a good example is how a data read out can impact the next strategic move.  These highly experienced people are on your board to help think about if you should start to look for a strategic partner vs. starting to build out a commercial infrastructure.  Another example of where their input would be valuable is helping think about going back to the private markets for more capital with this new data in hand or considering an IPO.  There’s nothing wrong with giving them updates finance, HR, sales, and so forth, but board meetings should be about leveraging your board members for the important decisions.

Kevin: Keeping board meetings on track and focused can indeed be challenging for a CEO. However, they can increase their chances of achieving meeting objectives by following some of the things we talked about in earlier discussions – selecting the right board members that will help drive the company’s strategy, preparing in advance of board meetings, and inviting the right mix of people to participate.

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