The Secret to a Great Board: Vetting Your Candidates

While top corporate and institutional officials are experts at assessing issues and making fact-based decisions, considerations surrounding appointments of fellow senior leaders can present unique risks to the reputations of the decision-makers and their institutions.

Candidates for these types of positions typically have navigated complex issues of their own and succeeded in gaining the respect of many in their field. Finalist candidates will have survived an extensive information-gathering process resulting in dossiers of press, routine public information and more informal (and indispensable) network inquiries. But an independent professional vetting process can further reduce the risks of making a bad decision or being unprepared to deal with surprising public relations aspects as the candidate is subjected to a higher level of scrutiny in their new position.

The False or Exaggerated History
The University of Notre Dame fell victim to embarrassment when they failed to properly vet the resumé of their new football head coach, George O’Leary, who resigned after admitting to fabricating some of his academic and athletic accomplishments. O’Leary’s embellishments, published in media guides and press releases throughout his career, went undetected as he was recruited and appointed to position after position. Only after The Union Leader looked into his background once he was named to one of the most coveted positions in college football did the truth come out.

“Even if issues identified in the vet are determined to be non-fatal to the candidacy, the institution can be prepared in advance to deal with any issues if or when they arise.

The Common Perception
A potential candidate for a board position of a major U.S. organization had years earlier been forced out of a top executive position at a prominent company in a different industry, amid widespread publicity about a variety of problems. While the end of his tenure included salacious allegations, a common perception heard from network connections was that the significance of many of those allegations had been largely discounted and his departure was attributed to issues related to his management style and strategy. However, deeper research uncovered more serious issues with personal conduct and credibility, and the organization decided to go in a different direction for the board position.

The False Positive
A world-renowned university was considering an internal promotion, a vet was conducted as per policy. The vet uncovered drug and domestic assault charges that appeared to have been filed against the candidate—raising a red flag for the university. The charges were in a state where the candidate previously lived and matched the candidate’s full name, date of birth and social security number. However, after interviewing the ex-girlfriend and neighbors of the recently deceased actual perpetrator of the crimes, it became clear that the candidate’s identity was stolen, nullifying the concern.

These examples demonstrate the need for in-depth vetting performed by discreet professional experts. Such vetting distills the complexities of comprehensive public records research, the relevant privacy, employment and other legal issues involved, and reporting in a clear, concise, factual way. Even if issues identified in the vet are determined to be non-fatal to the candidacy, the institution can be prepared in advance to deal with any issues if or when they arise.


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