Christine Chang On What It Takes To Serve On A Board

Christine Chang, the chief executive officer at a small business lending platform called 6th Avenue Capital, is a busy woman. She has three children under the age of five and runs a growing bridge financing business, which provides companies with short term loans when they’re in need of capital. 

She’s also served on several boards, chairing the board at Bottomless Closet, which helps New York overcome poverty. She’s a member of High Water Women and the Trust and Estates Committee of the SUNY College of Optometry. She also mentors folks in the Columbia Business School’s Nonprofit Board Leadership Program and Cornell’s Alumni-Student Mentoring program

Chang shared her advice for snagging a board seat and supporting other women’s work in an interview with She Spends. What follows is an excerpt from that conversation 
(editor’s note: the interview has been edited and condensed for clarity). 

You have served on a few boards. Can you share a bit with our readers about how you’ve gotten there? 
There really is a clear path to serving on a board that people don’t see. Ask yourself: How can you add value to the organization? Then, work to start serving on a not-for-profit board. It’s low risk for a not-for-profit. They get a volunteer. For example, early in my career, I drafted the guidelines for the board at Bottomless Closet to have an investment committee.

Then you serve on a private company board, then a university board. There’s an expectation that you’re going to raise money. Then you serve on a board for a public company. There’s generally a requirement for a publicly-traded company that you have experience. One of the most insightful things I heard was to remember the three Ws: Work, Wisdom and Wealth. It’s that triangle that makes a great board member. That’s usually the barrier to entry. You don’t just get asked to be a trustee because you’re nice. 

What tools help you stay on top of your work and daily life?
I have an Excel sheet for my childcare situation. I use an app called Class Dojo to monitor what my kids are doing at school. It gives me a little more insight.

My five-year-old son is obsessed with being a ninja. There’s a book called The Official Ninja Handbook, and there are great principles in there. You just work twice as hard as everyone else. Everybody understands being nice to people. The way I extrapolate that in business is called co-opentition. I know my competitors better than people in the space that don’t work with me. A lot of our strategic partnerships are with my competitors. We’re creating a bigger pie versus competing for a smaller pie. 

What advice can you share with our readers?
I think that it’s important for people to always be exceptional in their careers. People who write down their goals can achieve them. 

You’ll see from a younger person’s point of view is that women are the greatest proponents or detractors of other women. I tried to help people early on, and that can come back to you. Early on, I think that it’s important to keep the perspective of not how someone can help me, but how can I help a person. I would keep that in mind, especially early on. It’s incredibly important for young people to think about how they can be additive.