Advisory Boards Provide Input

For any entity that interacts or provides a service to the public or business, an advisory board can provide a needed link to its community.
It can come in the form of the 58-member Advisory Council of the non-profit Tulsa Sports Commission, which provides a source of volunteers, support and a link to the business community, or the numerous advisory boards created by the BOK Financial Corp. to give it insight into the banking needs of the many communities it enters and serves.
It can represent a small slice of the community, like the 18-member board created by the Sinclair Oil Refinery to set up an exchange of information and feedback with its neighbors, or it can proliferate to the 52 boards created by Tulsa Community College to keep it in touch with the needs of the business community and the students it serves.
The Tulsa Business Journal examined how these entities use advisory panels to improve their operations.
Mike Dodson, executive director of the Tulsa Sports Commission, a branch of the Tulsa Metro Chamber’s Conventions and Visitor’s Bureau, sees his organization’s Advisory Council as “an extension of our mission.”
“We do that by interacting with leaders in the community who help us execute events, help us raise money for the organization and different events and help us promote the organization through the community,” he said. “It’s a broad role, and everybody can plug in in a different way.”
The Tulsa Sports Commission hosts events in Tulsa like the Conference USA basketball championship and creates other events like the internationally recognized Tulsa Tough bicycle races.
Doug Stuart, president of JD Young and a member of the TSC’s Advisory Council Executive Committee, said the board “is very diverse with a lot of talents that contribute to it. We have experts from all facets of business and the community.”
“You really want a broad-based organization that makes you effective in the community,” Dodson said. “Having the diversity and having that many people makes you more effective when you are trying to sell something, promote something or get more people involved”
He said the Executive Committee streamlines the management aspects of the Council.
He also said it is important to have buy-in at all levels of the advisory group.
“We are talking to our Advisory Council members and our Executive Committee all the time about what our challenges are and what we would like to do so that we can do that together,” he said. “It makes us stronger and more effective.”
Council members give their time and effort for the good of the community and the enjoyment of the events, they said.
“The old rule really applies that you get out of it what you put into it,” he said. “These are volunteers, they are not compensated. They do it because they enjoy sports.”
“That is exactly right,” Stuart said. “It’s giving back to the community, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Kevin O’Sullivan has experience with boards from almost every perspective.
As president and CEO of Miratech Corp., 420 S. 145th East Ave., he has his own company’s corporate board, he serves on the Oklahoma and national Multiple Sclerosis advisory boards, is a member of a BOKF Brookside Business Banking Group Advisory Board and is that board’s non-voting representative on the BOKF corporate board.
While corporate boards have a governance role, he said the advisory boards provide operational input.
He said that operational input takes several forms for members of the BOKF advisory boards.
“If this banking group is contemplating a different marketing direction, a different plan relative to fee schedules or a different product, they often times educate us,” he said. “The second thing we are used as is spokesmen. We can be a customer representative at different functions and speak on what our experience has been with the BOK product.”
“In addition, we provide an opportunity for being able to make referrals, maybe at a different level than just an acquaintance would. We can say, listen, I know these guys not only from a banking relationship but also from being involved in this role as an advisor director.”
The bank also gathers input about the marketplace from its advisory boards, he said.
“We do provide input they may not hear from a customer that we might hear in a personal relationship that we can relay back to them,” O’Sullivan said. “It gives them a flavor of what is going on in the marketplace.”
He said that while the BOKF advisory board members are paid a modest “show-up” fee, advisory panels typically offer no compensation yet require a lot of time and personal commitment.
“Members have to believe in the mission of what the organization is doing and feel like their input is valued and there is some ability to make a difference,” he said.
When Mike Bellinger came to Tulsa to be plant manager at Sinclair Tulsa Refinery, he saw a need to create an advisory board of representatives of the plant’s neighboring community.
The Sinclair Tulsa Refinery Community Advisory Panel, comprised of 18 community members, started meeting a year ago after six months of work developing a charter.
Bellinger, who had transferred to the Tulsa site from the Gulf Coast, had worked with advisory boards in his previous jobs and that the board was “created to get more communication and understanding between the community and the plant.”
The Tulsa Sinclair plant has started on a $1 billion expansion that will increase capacity of the refinery 60 percent to 115,000 barrels per day.
Bellinger brought together a facilitator and 18 members of the community.
“We tried to get a broad demographic on the panel,” he said.
The board discusses environmental and educational issues.
“We educate the community on exactly what we do here. What kinds of processes we have, what kinds of chemicals we have,” he said. “We talk with them about our environmental reporting requirements and then we listen to them about what their concerns about our business. Being a refinery we have more impact on the community than other businesses. We have flares that go off from time to time. There might be a fire or loud noises – different things that community members are concerned about.”
“We thought noise or environment impact were the main concerns, but the main feedback we have had is about odors coming out of the refinery and what can we do about that,” Bellinger said.
Tulsa Community College essentially put together an advisory board to determine how best to manage its 52 advisory committees.
“When I came into this role two years ago, we didn’t have a set or written process on how our advisory boards would function,” said Mary Ann Philpot, dean of Workforce Development with oversight of the advisory committees, “So we put together an advisory focus group that told us what they thought the advisory committee should look like and how we should function in order to get the most out of the advisory committees.”
One of the changes that came out of that process was a plan to bring the more than 400 advisors from the Tulsa community together for a joint advisory committee breakfast and then break into their individual panels.
“They had been meeting in 52 different individual meetings, dates and times,” Philpot said. “We wanted them to know they had an overall role in the whole college.”
Thomas McKeon, president and CEO of TCC, said the advisory committees are seen as a way for the college to develop relationships with the business community and for representatives of specific workforce areas to keep the college abreast of their changing needs.
“They had been doing that independently,” he said. “Having this large event where we bring them all together has really energized the committees.”
Other needs identified by the focus group included recognizing the input provided by committee members and establishing guidelines for the committees.
“We are so passionate about what we are doing here, there could have been a tendency to show you what we are doing, but what we really needed to have happening was letting our advisors know how they contributed to us,” she said. “When we are looking at prioritizing equipment, we look back at the recommendations of board members. Their contributions are immeasurable.”
For information on serving on a committee, contact Philpot at 595-7843 or

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