Why and how to build your personal Board of Directors

Interview with Heather Melius

What is a personal board of directors?
Is a board of directors essential for everyone?
Is it necessary for it to come from within your company?

This episode is all about career advice. Together with Heather, we talk about having your personal board of directors and how could this concept help you have a career advancement overtime.

We also talk about the following points:

  • How have you learned about the concept of your personal board of directors?
  • Why should we have one?
  • What worked and didn’t work as you built your own board?
  • Do you have an example of where this board helped you?
  • How does it develop over time?


Listen to this episode and share this with your friends and colleagues who might learn from it!

Heather Melius

She is the Associate Director, Data Management GCP Auditor in the Quality Medicine group of Boehringer Ingelheim with 13 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry.  

Prior to becoming a GCP Auditor, she was a Senior Clinical Data Manager in Boehringer Ingelheim’s Biostatistics and Data Sciences group where her expertise was in the acquisition and handling of external data.  She has a wealth of knowledge and experience performing data management activities, initiation through closure on Phase I-III clinical trials, across various therapeutic areas.

Heather’s expertise in data management led her to a career shift into the GCP auditing arena.  In her current role as a GCP Auditor, she is responsible for performing GCP audits mainly in the areas of biostatistics, clinical data management and computer systems validation.


Alexander: Welcome to another episode of the effective statistician and today I’m really glad to have Heather with me for a really interesting topic. And when I first heard about it, I was thinking to myself, do I have that? Maybe a little bit. But I never really kind of thought about it in more detail. And that I’m really happy to have Heather here. How are you doing?

Heather: Hi Alex, I’m doing great. Thank you for inviting me as a guest on the effective statistician. But I guess I am happy to be here with you today. 

Alexander: Okay, very good. Before we dive into the topic itself, may you give the listener a short intro of yourself. 

Heather: Sure. So I am an Associate Director of data management, GCP Auditor in the Boehringer Ingelheim Quality Medicine group. And I have 13 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to becoming a GCP auditor. I was a senior clinical data manager in VI’s biostatistics and Data Sciences group where my expertise was in the acquisition and handling of external data. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience performing data management activities from initiation, through closure on clinical trials, from Phase 1, 2 and 3. And various therapeutic areas. My expertise and data management is what led to my recent career shift into the world of GCP auditing. In my current role, as a GCP auditor. I am responsible for performing GCP audits mainly in the areas of biostatistics, clinical management and computer systems validation. So that’s a little bit about me, Alex. 

Alexander: Okay. In terms of the topic of the day today, the personal board of directors, when you have first stepped over this? 

Heather: So I first learned about, or was introduced to the personal board of directors concept last year, when I was selected by my management team to participate in a six-month leadership program called I’m Power, which was developed or created by an organization called Women Unlimited. The empower program is offered to women identified as high potential in the BI organization. And while in the program, I had the opportunity to interact with peers from a wide range of companies and industries, as well as work with seasoned leaders who provided me with mentoring and coaching. So the program also provided extremely beneficial leadership strategies. However, the personal board of directors concept really resonated with me because it gave me a conceptual blueprint to follow in order to move my career on an upward trajectory. So the Women Unlimited incorporated leadership program was invaluable to me and I believe my recent career advancement is a direct correlation of my participation in the program. 

Alexander: Okay, interesting. Yes, that’s great to hear that BI is investing in this one. 

Heather: Absolutely 

Alexander: Board of directors, when I hear about this, kind of, I think first in terms of this business and you know, this is a wide variety of kinds of different people that come from all kinds of different places. And can add other information to it. Do you kind of see yourself kind of as a business or how does it come to be kind of this name for it? 

Heather: Well, I think everyone should see themselves as a business. Right there, an asset. Your career is your business. You’re trying to grow your business. So I think when people hear board of directors as well as an individual, they think, oh board of directors are only for people who are at this high level in roles that are highly visible. So for example directors, VPs  and executives, right? But a board of directors, it’s not only reserved for individuals in that role. To me a board of directors is for anyone who’s interested in advancing their career and development. They should invest in having a board of directors. And so again, we are our own business and we have to promote our business. Our board gives us advice on really our career vision, goals and how to go about achieving that. 

Alexander: Okay. That’s great. So it’s career advice for these kinds of things, complementary knowledge. What else can they provide us with? 

Heather: Our board of directors, they’re extremely beneficial. The benefits of having a board of directors, immense. Your board of directors can give you access to information, advice, and ideas. They can also provide resources related to your career development and advancement, and very importantly they can make you aware of or recommend you for open positions, right, position opportunities, 

Alexander: Okay. Okay. So is that board of directors mostly within your organization then? 

Heather: No, it doesn’t have to be within your organization, right? We’re talking about a personal board of directors, right? And it’s for advancement. So, it’s not only on a professional level right? A board of directors can also assist you on a personal level as well. Because I find, you know, most of the insights that you or we find while we’re working. We can also apply those insights into our personal life and really improve and enhance our personal lives as well. So it’s not only strictly related to a work environment. It’s just really just all-encompassing pretty much again, right? It’s about your growth, your development, whether that’s professional, whether that’s on a personal level as well. 

Alexander: Oh that’s good. So it could also include more kinds of the family’s things, health things, personal financial things, like these kinds of things. 

Heather: Right. So it’s exactly so it’s anyone that can really see your vision and assist you in really achieving your vision whatever that vision may be. Right wow, we’re speaking about the professional space, right? So my board of directors, for example, includes leaders within BI, my peers within BI as well. So my board is pretty diverse, right? It’s not only leaders, right? We can have our managers, we can have peers as well. You know, that can advise us on a peer-to-peer level because sometimes, you know, when we work with our colleagues, we have blinders on, right? And if we have a colleague who can say, okay, well, you know, this is what I see and, you know, they can also help us along the way as well. So, again, I think everyone should think about the board of directors, as any individual that you trust, you respect, you can be psychologically safe with. Those individuals are pretty good candidates to be a part of your board.

Alexander: And probably also kind of complementary knowledge to yourself, kind of, if you are that a statistician, don’t have only statisticians in there. 

Heather: Exactly. Exactly. It’s you know, again any individual is going to help you be well-rounded, right? So, yes.

Alexander: So you mentioned this, who can help you achieve your vision for yourself? Do you first need to set the vision and then get the board of directors? Or is it kind of a first board of directors and then vision because they help you on creating the vision? Or is it more kind of an iterative fluent kind of thing? 

Heather: Well, I think overall it becomes fluid, but I think that initially everyone should have a vision in mind, right? What’s their career vision and what are their goals, how do they see themselves? Do you want to become a leader? Is that your vision, right? So once you identify what your vision is, then you can bring in your board members, right? And you can have me when I have my vision outlined for me. So, when I meet with my board of directors, each one on one, on a monthly basis for about 25 minutes or so. It doesn’t have to be an extremely long amount of time. During that meeting, you know, we discussed where I am with my career vision and my goals, we discussed successes that I have achieved to meet that goal. Talk about any challenges that I’m facing. You know, that’s prevented me from achieving those goals and how we can pretty much find solutions to those challenges. 

Alexander: Okay. Okay. Do you have an example of that for a challenge for career advice? 

Heather: Right. So as far as challenges that we’re so I would say how I Incorporated my board, an example of how I incorporated my board is recently I made a switch from data management into the GCP world of auditing and that’s when really I called on my board. So, you know, I told my board, Okay this is my vision, you know, I’m interested in moving, towards leadership type roles and I’m interested in shifting out of again, data management and moving into GCP to just get some more experience on that end and my boards, you know, after discussing with my board, I determined, okay, this move is a great move for me. I have a number of years of experience in data management. I would like to assume some additional responsibilities or experience to pretty much broaden my portfolio, my professional portfolio, which will assist me, you know, in moving towards more of a leadership role because I have more experience. So after discussing with my board, you know, I decided, okay, this move is in my best interest. So, during my discussion with my board, my board member gave me advice on interview prep also, you know, subsequent compensation negotiations. So that’s really where my board came just very helpful to me and my development and my growth and again my vision. 

Alexander: Oh, that’s cool. In terms of your vision, how do you kind of think about it, this 3,5,10-year vision or how have you come up with your vision? 

Heather: Well, I came up with my vision by saying, okay, ultimately, I would like to see myself in a leadership position. I try not to put numbers around my vision but I do set goals. You know, I’ve been in a role for x amount of years. I’ve gained this amount of experience, you know, or what steps do I take to meet the next goal, right? Does that include any type of training that I need? Does that mean more types of mentorship programs to attend or participate in? So those types of items that I use to really step through and meet that overall goal again, there is no timeline for me saying like 3,5 years. Again the goal is, I’d like to be at this leadership position. And I just look at the tools that I need to meet that goal. And then I am somewhat strategic about things as well.

Alexander: Yeah, for me, it’s like, I’ve set up a couple you know of specific things in terms of what a vision for myself is and across all four different domains of my life. Yeah, so not just the professional domain and have really kind of captured these more in pictures than of numbers. And it’s more about who I want to become rather than which position I would like to fill because positions come and go, change all the time and also it’s not so much about the specific position but what type of person you become. And then, you know, if for example you say, you know, you want to become a leader, It’s not necessarily, I want to be a leader, in exactly this function, in this location or whatsoever. It’s a much more vague thing and then, you know, you can have more opportunities to actually achieve it, by not restricting yourself too much there. However, it is specific enough so that you can have shorter term goals to move towards it. Like, okay, if I want to be there in a couple of years, then probably I need to have this experience. I need to have demonstrated these skill sets. I need to have these kinds of people in my network, such things. It would be great to work on such projects. Yeah, all these kinds of more actionable and more concrete steps that help you to move towards a bigger long-term vision. Yeah.

Heather: Right. Absolutely.

Alexander: That’s great. In terms of a little bit, specific steps. How do you find these board members, are they already in your network or do you need to discover them? 

Heather: Well, that’s a great question, Alex. So, and it’s something that I’m struggling with as well. So, I’ll be honest. Right now, finding my board members. It’s easy to find people that are internal because you know, we work with these individuals on a daily basis, almost right? So it’s easy to find people that are internal to my board. But what I’m challenged with is finding people, like outside of BI. So I think in order to find individuals, using tools like LinkedIn, for example, it’s a good resource, right? Just following people, connecting with individuals and just seeing like What? Who they’re following as well. I’m reading articles that they’re posting. That’s a good way to really like to find people who are outside of your immediate network. So that’s one avenue that, you know, I’m gonna look into as well because like I said, I’m challenged with finding people outside of really like the pharmaceutical industry also, because I’m now into the world of auditing and I think it brings value to find auditors in other areas, right? Because getting ideas from those individuals, may be something that can be implemented into the pharmaceutical space as well. So, you know, like 

Alexander: Financial auditors or other other completely different industries. 

Heather: Right exactly. 

Alexander: I actually think I have a couple of people on my board of directors also, I’ve never really sort of them this way, which are friends that have kind of developed over the years. Yeah, and we also know we work in different companies. There’s still a lot of connection. It’s maybe not as regular as you said in terms of monthly calls, but from time to time and also, especially when there’s a specific topic that falls into their expertise. And I, you know, called on these people, and to be honest it’s very often also a mutual relationship. Yeah, so it’s not just, they help me but I help them as well. The other point is, in terms of finding people where I have found a lot of really, really good contacts is through PSI, our professional organization. So wherever you are in the world and listening here, maybe there’s a local statistics organization or maybe this other kind of such local, you know, association, societies, or maybe it’s even a global one like PSI where you can join and yeah, meet great people. I’ve also met a couple of great people throughout PSI and of course, through my podcast as well, which is a nice bonus. 

Heather: And I do agree with you Alex, as well, as you know, as you’ve mentioned there are people in your network that you know, you don’t frequently talk to but then you know, you can call on them when is needed, but I really do believe that keeping, nurturing your network or your board of directors, nurturing those relationships very important right? So when you have your board of directors, you don’t need to call on those individuals all the time, right? You can call on them when you know the need arises, they specify or they specialize in a specific area. You can reach out to them, you know, and discuss with them. But again, it’s about keeping the relationship alive, nurturing that relationship and also bringing in value as well, right? Because we don’t want to take all the time, right? We want to give as well, right. So the relationship has to be a symbiotic relationship where exchange of ideas and advice resources, you know, again, it’s fluid. It’s an equal transfer. So the same way my board of directors brings value to me. What’s important to me is to ensure that I am bringing value to my board of directors as well. 

Alexander: Yeah. How such a board member is different from let’s say a coach that he would have. 

Heather: Ice and beer. I think the concept is pretty similar. Quite honestly, we’re just calling it, something more fancy word rather than a coach 

Alexander: Because I also have a let’s say professional coach. Yeah, some of which I also pay and because they do that for their business. And that’s also quite helpful to have such people in your, but there’s one other thing that is maybe not so much of a board of directors where you can actually talk to but there’s these what I would call virtual mentors. Yeah. Who are just very knowledgeable people outside so that we can listen to, we get ideas from where you, maybe also get kind of sometimes some tough love. I’m primarily listening to them because I listen to this podcast and I can say that also helped me quite a lot. So for example from a leadership perspective, I’ve listened for years to podcasts from Michael Hyatt and learned quite a lot about leadership from that and in that regard. 

Heather: Well, and I think that’s where we talk about diversity on your board, right. I think that’s where it comes into play where you’re not selecting just individuals who think like you, right? You also have individuals on your board who challenge your thinking, right? Like you said, gives you that tough love, you know, in cases where it’s needed as well, right. Because again, when you, when we have people on our board who think differently from us, they bring a different perspective, right? They see things from a different lens and, you know, it’s something that we may not see ourselves, right? So again, that’s why it’s good to have a diverse board and not just individuals who think like you? 

Alexander: Yeah. Yeah, I completely agree. And sometimes also this kind of coaching can sometimes be a little painful in the short term because you need to listen to these hard truths that you may not want to listen to. It can be, it’s really, really helpful in the long-term. And so embracing this pain is like if you’re going for a run and you kind of go for the stretch at the end and you push it. It’s also painful, but that’s where growth comes from.

Heather: I agree. I agree, 100%. And like you, I’m not an avid runner. I do run like you said, it’s painful for me. But what I’m done, everything is just I’m so glad I did it. I feel energized. So yeah, so like you said, there has to be sometimes there are growing pains, right? But then when we go through those growing pains, we come out on the end, you know, more strengthened and positive. So yes, so I do agree. 

Alexander: Okay. Okay. Yeah. Awesome. Thanks so much for those really, really good discussions about the personal board of directors. We talked about how it can help you, how it can kind of help you to achieve your vision, how you can actually come up with your vision also a little bit and set. It helps you to challenge, you to open doors, to be a sounding board for ideas, and helps you over challenges. And then having some things that are, you know, complementary to yourself and that fits with the goals you want to achieve. That’s really great. Any final point that you want to make in terms of the board of directors. Any final recommendation for the listener? 

Heather: Yeah. So final recommendation for the listener is again, remember you do not have to be in a highly visible position in order to assemble your personal board of directors, right. So if you are interested in your career growth, development and just ensure your career vision is reached please assemble a board of directors. You’ll be happy, you did. 

Alexander: Awesome, that is a really, really nice call to action. Thanks so much, Heather and have a great time. 

Heather: All right, great thanks so much Alex. I really enjoyed my time speaking with you today. Take care. 

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