Boards of Advisors Don’t Advise, Do Board

Now that I’ve been on several official boards of advisors for a few years I can report:  boards of advisors are almost never asked to give advice, though they do sometimes offer it anyway.  But boards of advisors are usually "boarded", i.e., paid something.

They would be better called "boards of prestige" – the message being "we aren’t so clueless that these prestigious people refuse to associate with us."  Or perhaps just "we could afford to buy these prestigious people, even though for a price they’d associate with anything."  Now I have in fact turned down paid affiliations with organizations I thought too clueless, but I can’t report how many others are willing to do the same. 

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  • a. y. mous

    You have no idea what you are missing. You shouldn’t turn down offers for being on the board. It’s not about the money. It’s the calendars.

    “Miss June’s Tatyana Yakubovich, adviser to the chairman of the board”

  • Mason

    While I agree that boards of advisors probably give little advice and a lot more prestige to an organization, I think you need to combine your two thoughts:

    “Our combination of wealth and smarts is enough that these prestigious people will associate with us.”

    Now for that organization you turned down, you were probably maximizing your income by doing so, and I think others would do the same*. How many other invitations would you receive after associating with clueless people?

    (This is reminding me of a discussion of women’s mating value with relation to promiscuity, you don’t want to be a board slut.)

    *People maximize utility not income, and while it’s possible that your mental suffering caused by being on a board with idiots would have no price, I would think that something in the range of $10^x would change your mind, if only so that the idiots couldn’t be spending it themselves.

  • Perhaps the advisors would need some power over the advised. Could the board realistically be given powers such as a veto? Could the advisory board remain fairly independent?

  • Grant

    Heh, I thought this was pretty universally understood. I once asked a very successful entrepreneur why he would invite certain academics on the board of a fledgling company, and he replied something to the effect of: “They lend credibility”.

    However, I thought it was pretty common for distinguished academics to be invited on to boards of directors, not just advisors.

  • michael vassar

    I am a co-founder of a company and several of our advisers really do advise in one case extensively. So do large investors who aren’t on our board. To a non-trivial degree in B2B one needs to know, for instance, industry jargon and the connotations of last years fashions in industry jargon. This information is worth paying for and we pay for it as much as or more than the prestige of our advisers, not to mention their personal connections, advice on pricing, etc.

  • Do you pay the advisors in stock, Michael?

    Are you usually paid in stock, Robin?

  • “boards of advisors are almost never asked to give advice, though they do sometimes offer it anyway.”

    And when the advisors do “offer” advice, are they listened to?

  • Michael, good to hear of your exception – I wonder how common that is.

    Richard, it varies.

    Chris, there is almost always the appearance of listening.

  • michael vassar

    Yes Richard.

  • Some boards advise over organizations that have separate sections that compete with each other for funding and approval from the group as a whole, with the leaders of the competing groups being codirectors of the organization. In such cases, sometimes such boards actually make decisions regarding which group is to get the goodies over which other group.

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