Some executives run one company and serve on the board of another. But Wendy Schoppert has recently made board service her full-time career focus. She currently sits on the board of five companies: local businesses Bremer Bank and Nina Hale Inc., as well as national companies Gaia, Big Lots Stores, and the Hershey Co.
Schoppert came to board service in 2013, when she was CFO of Sleep Number and a business connection brought her to the board of Colorado-based Gaia Inc.— then Gaiam, a global membership-based video streaming media company. Shortly after, looking for a lifestyle change, she decided to leave full-time work and focus solely on board service. She added roles in the Twin Cities and beyond through networking and recruiters—which, she notes, is becoming more common. Companies are using recruitment firms more often because they’re looking for more diversity on the board, “and you don’t want to limit yourself to just people you know,” Schoppert says. “Or they’re looking to fill very specific skill sets.”
With Schoppert, however, companies benefit from a wide range of skills. Early on, she decided to forgo a vertical career path and instead accumulate a breadth of experience through different functional areas and industries. She’s held leadership roles in the airline, financial, and retail sectors. Her strong financial background—including a key role on the senior team that led Sleep Number through pre-recession growth, the economic crisis, a company turnaround, then back to a growth strategy and execution—has her currently chairing the audit committee of Bremer Bank and serving on the Audit Committees at the Hershey Co., Big Lots, and Gaia. But she brings more than financial expertise to the table. Her background also includes general management, investor relations, corporate development, marketing, sales, and IT, including cyber-security. She’s led data security compliance and also led the digital team at Sleep Number as both chief information officer and chief marketing officer. This digital knowledge has proven especially important on all of her current boards.
“The thread that covers every industry I’m involved in is how to best design and evolve a company's digital strategy,” Schoppert says. That’s just one similarity she sees in the five organizations she serves. “Firms of different sizes and across different industries face a lot of the same strategic and leadership challenges,” she observes.
Technology has made serving on multiple boards simpler, but her schedule requires Schoppert to travel a few times a month and stay on top of reading and meeting prep to streamline discussions. She believes serving on multiple boards only makes her a stronger member. “While they span multiple industries, all of my boards are mission- and consumer-driven firms that share similar challenges and opportunities, so I find myself offering some of the same key learnings and counsel across these boundaries. That's been very rewarding.”
Her boards have reaped rewards from her presence as well. “Having served at a C-level in marketing, finance, and IT roles at large corporations, Wendy brings a balanced financial acumen to our company,” says Nina Hale, founder of the Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency that bears her name. “She is meticulous in her research and preparation, but her true skill lies in the thoughtful wisdom and challenging questions she brings to us. Most of our discussions focus on long-term growth and strategy, and she has excellent insight into the structure needed to achieve that growth without a loss in quality or speed of service.”
Looking ahead, Schoppert remains committed to board service. “I have the capacity for one more board,” she says. “I’ve had experience in the airline industry, in financial services, and a vertically integrated company like Sleep Number that has both retail and manufacturing. Right now, I have boards that represent all of those areas, except for the travel industry. So that’s where I’d love to add a board role at some point.”
Molly Each is a freelance writer who has contributed to Crain’s, Chicago Tribune, and other publications.