Celebrity directors bring lots of attention to your company—and lots of complications to your board. Featuring Steve Mader, strategic partner at ON Partners.
Corporate Board Member – From movie star Cary Grant joining the board of cosmetics maker Fabergé in 1968 to Jim Mattis taking a General Dynamics board seat in August, the headline-making board appointment is a long and continuing tradition for corporate America. Nancy Reagan was a director of the Revlon Group after she left the White House. Opera diva Beverly Sills was on the boards at Time Warner and Macy’s. Mindfulness guru Deepak Chopra held a seat at Men’s Wearhouse. Oprah Winfrey serves on the board of Weight Watchers, while former pro-basketball great Shaquille O’Neal is a director at Papa John’s.
But an often-difficult question comes along with these headline-making appointments: Do celebrities do more than lend immediate marquee value and high-level connections?
The answer? It depends.
Don’t underestimate them: In some ways, today’s celebrities may be better suited to offer continuing business value than in bygone eras. Many of today’s entertainment stars and professional athletes are at the center of personal financial enterprises that generate significant revenues. And successful celebrities, almost by definition, have created tremendous sales and marketing juggernauts.
“You could put Oprah or Magic Johnson on an audit committee,” says Steve Mader, strategic partner at ON Partners, an executive-search firm based in Cleveland. “Celebrities come in all shapes and sizes from an experience perspective.”
Soft-pedal the news: Each of four companies contacted by Corporate Board Member—Smucker’s, Weight Watchers, Papa John’s and Poshmark, an online-resale firm that recently added to its board tennis icon Serena Williams, who’s got her own clothing line—declined to discuss their celebrity directors or provide access to them.
Why so mum? Because these board members are, well, different. “The value of those appointments is almost always external, whereas every other director gets pursued and appointed for the value they can offer internally,” says Mader. “And boards may consider that their external purposes are not really something they should disclose, that they shouldn’t really say much about why they appointed someone. They’re giving something up to get something back, and the equation isn’t always a winning one.”
ON Partners propels an organization’s mission by building C-level and board leadership teams. Founded in 2006 by like-minded consultants as a values-driven alternative to the multi-service global firms they were leaving behind, ON delivers a better executive search experience. The firm has been named to the Inc. 500/5000 Lists six times, was named to the Inc. 5000 Hall of Fame in 2018 and is consistently ranked among the top 20 retained executive search firms in the U.S. Read more about our board services.