Inside the boardroom: The party is over!

  @FortuneMagazine May 6, 2013: 8:49 AM ET
SEC20 boards now and then

Boards used to seek bigtime CEOs such as Jack Welch. Now? Asian American women with tech skills such as Clara Shih (right).


It's 5:45 A.M., cold, and dark. You are standing in a hotel lobby in a northern Midwestern city, about to be driven to the headquarters of the company on whose board of directors you serve. The board's committee meetings -- audit, compensation, others -- began yesterday after lunch and ran all afternoon, and then the full board had dinner. Days earlier you'd received a few hundred pages of briefing materials, which you are expected to have read and thought about. This morning you'll have breakfast at 6, and the board will convene at 6:30. You'll work until lunchtime, eat, and head for the airport.

Welcome to the world of a Fortune 500 director. It ain't what it used to be. The company described is real but doesn't want its board's routine disclosed for security reasons, which only begins to tell you how the director's world has changed. No one used to care when or where the board met -- or if it met at all. "Meetings, historically, long ago, were dog-and-pony shows," says Charles Elson, a director of HealthSouth, a former director of Sunbeam, AutoZone, and other companies, and chief of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware. Twenty years ago board service was the cushiest gig in corporate America. A morning of presentations by management followed by a long, liquid lunch, perhaps some cigars, and there you were. "It was a place for glory, for people who were already recognized," says a longtime board consultant.

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