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Build an advisory board: Add value to your business 

June 6, 2024

Advisory boards serve as a point of connection and innovation between your internal stakeholders, customers, and partners. Boards enable a level of cooperation and insight across a number of segments that help you discover, develop, and deploy new products strategically.

Here, we’re talking about all things pertaining to advisory boards including why they are such a valuable feature within an organization, what they can help you achieve, and a brief history of WEX’s advisory boards. We’ll use the advisory board we formed for our trucking / over-the-road (OTR) line of business as a case study.

What is an advisory board?

An advisory board allows internal and external stakeholders to come together, share knowledge about their industry and grow their business. Without one, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page about investments, product development, and business strategy.

Think of it like a meeting of the minds: The most capable and knowledgeable people in a particular industry or niche gather to discuss what’s best for a business.

When advisory boards started for WEX

WEX introduced its first advisory board in the early 2000s. The company’s goal was to bring all the collaboration and camaraderie that it was already experiencing with long-standing partners and apply it across the entire organization — a standardized committee, dedicated to transparency, and a commitment to progress in WEX’s industry areas.

Ever since, WEX’s advisory boards have evolved into epicenters of ideas, discussion, and cooperation — and yours can, too.

As an example, one of WEX’s longest standing customers, Werner Enterprises, serves on the WEX OTR advisory board. Werner Enterprises, Inc. is an American transportation and logistics leader, serving the United States, Mexico and Canada, with more than 8,600 trucks, 30,000 trailers and more than 14,000 associates. Werner’s 2022 revenues were more than $3.3 billion, and they’ve been a WEX customer for more than 25 years. Hear Steve Tisinger from Werner Enterprises share how that kind of collaboration and trust between businesses helps the industry as a whole.

Hear Steve Tisinger from Werner Enterprises share how advisory boards help the industry as a whole.

The benefits of an advisory board

Gathering so much expertise in one place via a robust and active advisory board can provide fruitful benefits for an organization, such as:

  • An objective perspective: External advisory board members help provide an impartial viewpoint on business topics. They can offer unbiased advice and insights that are detached from company politics or personal interests. This helps leadership make well-informed decisions and plan for the future strategically.
  • Increased credibility: Having industry experts on your advisory board doesn’t only communicate your dedication to success to prospective investors and clients, but to customers, too.
  • Better risk management: The collective experience and wisdom that advisory board members bring to the table can help identify and mitigate business risks. By providing insight into challenges, an advisory board allows a business to proactively address them, which can save time, resources, and mitigate expensive mistakes.

What a board member should strive to achieve

To get the most out of meetings, members need to do more than just show up. Being committed and actively participating in discussions is integral to the success of an advisory board. Being a member of WEX’s OTR advisory board is a coveted spot, and its members take that responsibility seriously. As an example, here’s what WEX asks of its OTR advisory board members:

  • A three-year commitment.
  • Participation in in-person meetings.
  • Being an active voice in discussions.
  • Bringing a spirit for collaboration and partnership.
  • Sharing constructive ideas and bringing new concepts to the table.
  • Facilitating and contributing to the open flow of dialogue between organizations.

And, of course, board members must respect and adhere to all confidentiality agreements. When meetings are all said and done for the year, it’s a commitment of about half a week, or three days, worth of time. Rest assured that time is spent consciously, and members’ contributions help WEX and partners simplify the business of running a business.

How to run an effective, active advisory board meeting

Now, a peek into the meetings themselves, what they look like and how they should ideally unfold. In WEX’s case, it strives to make each advisory board meeting focused and intentional so as to extract as much value as possible, even if that means covering two or three topics at a time (and it often does).

If you’re just getting started with a board, consider the following:

First and foremost, it’s important to provide board members with any pre-read material so that they can prepare for the discussion ahead of time. From there, it’s helpful to structure meetings in a way that allows time to:

  • Focus on receiving meaningful feedback on how things are running across the business, taking the time to digest that information, and having an open dialogue about it.
  • Receive feedback on product development roadmaps and have conversations around the most appropriate and strategic directions to take regarding the chosen product topics of the meeting.

For WEX, its OTR partners play a significant role in the company’s OTR advisory board. Over the last few years, WEX has worked with its long-time customer, Werner Enterprises, to transform their terminals nationwide as part of WEX’s VIP initiative. Terminals, technology, trucks, trailers, and talent (and sustainability) have been the main focuses, and much of the collaboration around this initiative comes from the fleet advisory board meetings.

Advisory board best practices

Establishing your own board can be daunting, especially at a time when the workforce is so distributed. Rest assured, these two best practices can help start a brand new advisory board off on the right foot.

Make advisory board meetings accessible

In an increasingly digital and virtual world, getting board members together face-to-face when you’re able is a rewarding and valuable experience. However, accessibility should also be top-of-mind — it’s a fine balance to attain, but certainly possible.

Here’s how WEX does it:

WEX strives for two advisory board meetings per year — once during the company’s annual SPARK event, where leaders in fleet, OTR, corporate payments, and benefits industries gather to network, learn, and discuss business strategies. Then, the advisory boards meet again rotating locations, once more over the course of the year — choosing somewhere memorable and accessible. Beyond these two meetings, WEX coordinates additional virtual advisory board gatherings to accommodate those who can’t make the in-person sessions and to discuss important matters as they arise.

Be committed to growth for your advisory board

Any advisory board’s goal should be to continue to grow and expand both participants and focus. After all, the more knowledge sharing that takes place, the more efficient an advisory board becomes at solving problems, pioneering solutions, and developing strategies. And while the focus may be on growth, starting small is not a bad thing.

In fact, WEX’s OTR advisory board is 25 members strong as of today, and already the group has achieved many of its goals. For the future, WEX’s goal is clear: to expand participation in its advisory boards and garner more executive-level participation, because having leadership join and participate in boards provides a valuable managerial perspective on business across customer segments.

Ideal outcomes of advisory board meetings

Before going into a board meeting, WEX has found it to be helpful to have an ideal outcome in mind. Knowing what specifically you want to get out of a meeting can help keep conversations on track and ideas flowing.

Let’s walk through a few of those ideal outcomes now:

Firstly, it can be beneficial for product teams to hear the voice of customers around specific topics in which the business is investing. This does wonders for product development lifecycles and helps to develop new offerings that solve industry-wide challenges.

A successful advisory board meeting will also address pressing issues that face your industry. For WEX, lately, that’s involved discussing payment security and combating fraud attempts, cardless payment opportunities, driver services, integration, and fuel management, to name a few. Through its advisory board, WEX explores new ways to expand product offerings to respond to the outcome of those discussions.

Lastly, advisory boards are a platform for collaboration and ideation that helps drive innovation across multiple customer segments. Having that point of contact enables a business to make more informed and strategic decisions, particularly regarding the most practical areas to invest the next dollar. To make those kinds of decisions, it’s essential to consider all aspects of a business and hear from subject matter experts with robust experience in each of the sectors.

WEX is a leading, global fintech solutions provider, simplifying payments and back-end business processes in the fleet management, benefits management, and corporate and travel payments areas. To learn more, please visit the company’s About WEX page.

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