The role Non-Executive Director (NED) appeals to some executives who prefer a multi-portfolio life to the one-desk, one-parking-spot existence. Mike Clancy has been recruiting Chairman and Non-executive Directors for UK SMEs for over 15 years and recently joined up with CIG London. Ian Day questions Mike on how to find your first NED role.
What’s the hardest thing about finding your first non-executive director
The first NED role you secure as part of your plural career sets a tone and a market perception of what you are looking for. You should remember that the most experienced NEDs, particularly in the SME sector, will say they don’t take on roles for the money – so seek out positions that will value, and benefit from, your skills and experience and that you will enjoy.
What sort of things should you think about when you are applying for a non-exec position?
Make sure you have a clear description of the attributes required for the role then match your skills and experience to 80 or 90 per cent of those. After that, research the organisation to see if it, and its people, interests you – particularly the existing board members.
Are there any key attributes which are sought after, regardless of the specific role?
There are a few – you should have the ability to mentor others, have independence of thought, experience of crisis management, the ability to provide increased availability when required, financial literacy, and the ability to contribute to and facilitate decision making in the face of divergent opinions.
The board has to ensure a business makes progress, so majority rather than unanimous decisions can ultimately prevail. Understand you are there to ensure the company is run properly, not to run the company.
There are increasing numbers of courses, certificates, diplomas to secure Non-executive Director skills. Do you think they are useful?
Investing time and money in a qualification, especially if it is self-funded, demonstrates commitment and motivation, so you are immediately separating yourself from others in the market who might be looking to “top up my pension”, or “get out of the house a few days a month”. Completing a qualification can provide you with a comprehensive tool kit, relevant knowledge, credibility, an improved network and increased self-confidence.
All of this, however, has to be mixed with the skills and experience from your executive career. The latter will always carry the most weight in securing your first role, particularly in the corporate sphere. You really must have had a board position in your executive career and gained experience of board level matters – so make that a priority for the later stages of your executive career.
Is it possible to find non-exec posts with companies outside the FTSE 350 via headhunters?(Ed: top 350 companies by cap on the London SE)
Yes I believe it is – but the market is a lot more fragmented. Several of the smaller, reputable headhunting firms will carry out these assignments. The candidate needs to spend longer networking and more research is required – but it should be worthwhile. The UK Corporate Governance code 2010 recommends that companies below the FTSE 350 operate in the same way as larger ones, although they are not obliged to. However, it seems obvious that in the interests of attracting institutional shareholders it would be best practice.
The Code states for FTSE350 companies board appointments should be via a “formal, rigorous and transparent procedure”. This would suggest use of a headhunter.
What other routes are there for finding a non-exec role, apart from using a headhunter?
There are several – depending on your appetite for networking. Getting to know existing NEDs should be a top priority, as they can help you appraise your suitability, provide an insight into the role of the NED, and have information on NED succession plans – and which headhunters the nominations committee is likely to approach.
Any other tips?
Never let yourself down with a poorly prepared CV. And play it long – pursue the opportunities you believe you will enjoy and that your skills and experiences will match. And I make no apology for stating the obvious – network, network, network.