Tell someone at a cocktail party that you are on a co-op board and the most likely response is “What a thankless task!” It seems every New Yorker has a co-op board horror story—and many of them probably contain more than a grain of truth, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
With vision, patience and common sense, a co-op board, like any organization, can transform itself. The effort pays off because a happy, effective board sets a positive tone for shareholders and staff and can ultimately lead to a positive impact on shareholders' investment value.
In 2007, after two years on the board, I became president of an Upper East Side co-op embroiled in both a controversial lobby renovation and a contentious board nominations process. The building had lots of things going for it: a solid financial picture, great location, an attractive, well-maintained structure and a superb staff. And with exceptional foresight, shareholders had some years before enacted a 5-year term limit for directors as part of the co-op’s bylaws, creating the opportunity for new leadership and fresh ideas to emerge regularly.
I took the helm at a challenging time, and with a core group of dedicated directors, the co-op board evolved into a model working group. The first order of business was to calm the waters and then to lay out a vision for the future. I adapted lessons learned from years of experience in the corporate world to develop the following set of seven principles which helped to guide our decision making and interactions.
Develop and articulate a vision statement for the future. Keep it simple—it’s a co-op, not the Fortune 500. A vision is a description of how the co-op sees itself now and in the near future, usually the next five years, and should reflect the views of the majority of shareholders. For example: