Tuesday, 20 July 2010 14:31

Software Boards Report - Educational Profiles Featured

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Software company board members are highly educated

Degree distribution for board members of fastest growth software companies

Of the 10 software companies surveyed, and 72 board members, only two board members do not have a bachelor’s degree, and four have PhDs. Fifty-two board members have at least a Master’s degree and 29 hold MBAs.

This suggests that fast-growth software companies benefit from board members with advanced business degrees even if they lack specific experience in the software industry.

Speaking to the entrepreneurial culture of the software industry, it’s noteworthy that two board members among fast-growth software companies do not hold a college degree. Omniture’s co-founders, Josh James and John Pestana, did not earn a bachelor’s, yet launched an innovative business that ranked as one of Inc. Magazine’s 500 fastest-growing private companies in 2006. The non-degreed duo founded the online marketing and Web analytics firm in 1996, secured venture capital, and went public 10 years later. Omniture was acquired by software behemoth Adobe Systems in September for $1.8 billion.

It should be noted that Omniture’s co-founders, both of whom sat on the company’s board, were surrounded by seasoned business veterans, including private equity firm stakeholders and CFOs who understand how to fuel start-ups and take them to the next level. The co-founders included external board members who had solid educational backgrounds. The value of advanced business degrees on software company boards should not, therefore, be underestimated. Even though advanced degrees are rarely criteria for selecting board members, it appears that there is a correlation between advanced degrees and being viewed as a valued advisor to these boards.

Software company board members hold multiple degrees

Level of Degree by type for board members of fastest growth software companies

Of the 10 software companies surveyed, 78 percent of board members hold two degrees and 44 percent hold double graduate degrees. Out of the 72 degreed board members studied, 15 went to an Ivy League school. (Note: Our research could not confirm the educational background on six board members. These six may or may not have degrees. These board members with unverifiable educational backgrounds include three directors from Sonata Software in India, two directors from Tech Mahindra in India, and one director from Avocent Corp. in Alabama).

All but one company has at least one board member who attended an Ivy League school. Forty-six board members, or 64 percent, have non-technical backgrounds. This again points to the vital need to include board members who have business knowledge even where there is no specific technical knowledge of the software product or its development. While software developers are a driving force behind executing product innovation, the business of making decisions about the company’s present and future direction at the macro level is well placed in the hands of board members regardless of technical backgrounds. When technical expertise meets business expertise at software companies, the demonstrated result is fast growth.

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Dora Vell

Dora Vell is the Managing Partner of Vell Executive Search, a boutique executive search firm in Boston focused on recruiting technology executives and board members. Vell has successfully completed numerous board member and C-level executive searches, including CEOs, COOs, CIOs, and Vice Presidents - at both public and private companies.

Prior to founding the firm in 2005, Vell was a Partner at Heidrick & Struggles' Technology practice for seven years.  Before her career in executive search, she worked at IBM for 11 years, managing software engineering organizations of 100 people and software sales organizations with revenues of $150 million. She has also served as an executive assistant to the CEO of IBM Canada for one year.

Vell holds seven worldwide software patents. She has published several Business of Leadership reports on governance and leadership and has been quoted in numerous articles including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Fortune, Agenda Week, MSNBC, Mass High Tech, the OPUS for the World Economic Forum, Boston Business Journal, The Globe & Mail, CIO Magazine, and IEEE. She also has been a featured speaker on leadership at numerous conferences and at Columbia University's MBA program.

Vell is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Boston CEO Roundtable. She has served on the boards of Framingham State, Entrepreneur's Organization, Goodwill, Mary Centre for developmentally handicapped adults, garage.ca, and RBC Capital Partners.

She has received an MBA from the University of Toronto, a Master in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo, and a Bachelor in Computer Science from Carleton. She has also completed the MIT Entrepreneurial Master’s program.


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