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Here’s Why Entrepreneurs Should Build A Personal Board of Directors

Business and life will throw you curve balls. Your personal board of directors can help you both merge and field those curves and navigate them.

In suggesting the creation of a personal board of directors, many career coaches and other corporate gurus are often short-sided. They unfortunately focus solely on careers versus the whole journey of life. As the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei once said, “Life is Art. Art is Life. I never separate it.” In my humble opinion, the same is true of work and life – they are inextricably intertwined.

Instead of viewing your professional life in a silo, your personal board of directors must understand your DNA, your ethnicity, viewpoints, challenges, wins, feelings, goals, and aspirations – what makes you tick. It’s inevitable that in both work and life, you’ll be thrown numerous curve balls. Your personal board of directors can help you both merge and field those curves with each member bringing their talent to help you navigate them.

Yes, your personal board of directors are there to help you stay the course, to dream big in work and life – even when the going gets rough. No matter what challenges may lie on the horizon, they are all in with you for the long haul to help you move past the fear and even go against the grain if necessary.


How to Structure a Personal Board of Directors

Here is how I see each of the people on my personal board of directors. When combined, their unique characteristics offer a powerful platform to help me think differently, pivot when needed, or validate my current plan of action.


The Life Coach

As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This is just one of the many things I’ve learned from my dad, Ashok Agarwal , an 84-year-old retired general and a former business professional who is my go-to guy for advice on everything in my life. Even though he lives on the other side of the world, he can relate to anything I encounter here in the U.S. His in-depth wisdom, drawn from his experience both on and off the battlefield, has proven invaluable to me every time. He calls this superpower “RM” relationship management, an understanding of people and managing relationships with them.


The Sage

An unbelievable leader, my former boss, Sanjay Poonen, is also an immigrant and a fellow alumnus at Harvard. Wickedly smart, personable who embodies a faith, family-first approach to life. Sanjay can provide an unparalleled perspective on all things involving business. His “Servant Leadership” motto has helped me navigate many career challenges both in work and in life. He continuously reminds me to keep the faith and play the long game when navigating the corporate world.


The Disruptor

My fellow co-founder and friend Atif Hussein, who co-founded a company with me and has worked with me in different roles throughout my career. He is my sounding board for orthogonal approaches to old problems. He never shoots from the hip and can give me a plan that considers my personal constraints. It’s also important to mention that he knows my personal life as well, so his advice is not simply the result of armchair quarterbacking – it is all actionable.


The Peer

One of my best friends, Erik Harrell, who has known me since our days together at business school, is always there to provide guide rails for my out-of-the-box thinking. This path and experience although different from mine prove to be through. He has proven to be a great collaborator, knowing the fundamentals of how I think, and brings a tempered and realistic perspective with the right amount of empathy and realism to advise me on any key decision I need to make.


The Consultant

As a former consultant, my brother Anupam Agarwal, brings his smarts to help me diagnose any problem. He has the capacity to point out where potential cracks may lie in my strategy. As a successful executive and having worked for multiple leading consulting and industry firms, he brings his consultative approach to help me identify current and future bumps in the road.


Building a Personal Board: Dos and Don’ts

Should you form your own personal board of directors with traits that are specially curated to help you navigate your work and life? Absolutely, but don’t let your mentor network be a substitute. With your personal board, there are a few Dos and Don’ts you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Do choose people who know you well. Select people who know you now and have known you for a good portion of your life. Make sure they connect and get to know each other as well. Enable and facilitate that each person on your board knows each other and understand why you may have selected them This will enable them to amplify and build upon each other’s strengths to provide the collective and holistic insight that you need.
  • Don’t overlook the little guy. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a C-Level executive, VP, director, manager or just starting your career, it’s key to have the right people around you. Brand matters less than the experience on a personal board.
  • Do give back. To get the most out of the experience, it should also be a two-way street, whereby you return the favor whenever needed and become a member of someone else’s personal board of directors. When it comes to major business and life decisions, accountability on both sides will ink the deal and ensure you are getting the most out of the experience. Afterall, these positions are without any formal compensation!
  • Don’t silo them to only your business life. Let them in to understand the whole you and what’s going on in your personal life as well. These individuals, when carefully chosen, have the capacity to help you navigate your steps in life, work and everything in between.

Only then will you be able to realize the full extent of the ROI rippling through your daily life, both personally and professionally. Now you can go ahead and file your S1.

Jai Ho! (“Let victory prevail!”)


Akash Agarwal has over 25 years of experience in the enterprise software space. He has been a founder/CEO as well as an operating executive at many leading software companies including SAP, Oracle, and Mercury Interactive, where he has led both the product and go-to-market functions. Most recently, Akash has been leading SAP’s Enterprise Mobile & IoT products, a multi-hundred million dollar business selling across all enterprise segments. He holds an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School, and a B.S. in Computer Science (with honors) from the University of Kent at Canterbury, England. Akash has a global perspective and has lived and worked on three continents. He loves tennis and is a pickleball coach.


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