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Cynthia Pharr Lee

Chairman, Corporate Board Member, Co-Founder Texas Women Ventures

Create a stand-out brand to win non-executive roles

Interviewing Cynthia Pharr Lee recently, I felt she was an outstanding example of how to be strategic to win non-executive director roles. She was kindly sharing her insights for Prime Women’s second act online program .

But now I want to share just how she created a portfolio of non-executive roles – and her tips anyone could follow. With a background in PR and marketing, Cynthia is the first to say, “Who would expect someone with my professional background to have a stamp as a cybersecurity expert?”

Her first roles – always the hardest – came from clients. One of her specialties was helping corporations in a crisis, “These are very high-level situations and you are working under pressure with the chief executive, accountants, lawyers and others. It was a good way for chief executives to see judgement and wisdom – something boards look for in their non-executives.”

But what Cynthia has done since is to look at what skills are missing on boards and get qualifications in them. As she says, this makes her distinctive.

She sets herself a “learning” goal every year. “Some years ago, I got a certificate in finance for non-finance managers, from Harvard,” Cynthia said. “Because of my marketing background, I was good at digital – however, I decided to validate this and did a Harvard course in digital marketing. To be honest, I didn’t really learn much that was new, but it makes me stand out to have this qualification.”

More recently, she noticed the growing issues of cybersecurity and a real lack of expertise to lead discussions on this at the board level.  Cynthia researched and signed up for the Cyber-Risk Oversight Program run by the National Association of Corporate Directors in partnership with Carnegie Mellon university. “It was a 30-hour online course, very credible and I learned a lot,” she says. “I can’t say I am an expert, but I now know the questions to ask around the board table and can oversee a strategic approach to the issue. It makes me distinctive as a non-executive director.”

Cynthia’s other distinction is that she co-founded Texas Women Ventures Fund in 2005 and was involved for ten years. “I became an early impact investor and we founded a family of venture funds to invest in women – an interest which turned into a passion, which turned into a distinction.”

She adds, “Being perceived as a venture capitalist was a rich field for developing clients, relationships and certainly for standing apart. You could probably count on two hands women who started venture funds – at the time, you could probably count them on one hand.”

Cynthia’s current portfolio includes independent board member of AAA Automobile Club of Southern California, Darling Ingredients Inc., and Lightstone Group, as well as chair of Dala Communications – the business she founded and built.

If you want help shaping your second act, join Prime Women’s online program – five 90-minute sessions over several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place. You will hear more insights from Cynthia and other women who made stunning transitions – to become board directors, social entrepreneurs, wine writer and even having their own TV show!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up