OnBoarding Officers’ Super NED Charlotte Mason reflects and shares her experiences of how she has secured Non-Executive Director positions over the years.
I am often asked “how can I break into the Non-Executive Director world”. To answer this question, I am forced to reflect on my personal journey to successfully securing a number of board seats. For me, it comes down to three things.
Volunteering, networking, and communication. Let me explain further.
I achieved my first external board appointment in June 2012 as a Non-Executive Director to INSEAD’s National Alumni Association UK; this is a voluntary position for a brand that I love and am passionate about. I had volunteered for INSEAD for a number of years before the opportunity arose to join the board. It was one of the best things that I did in starting my NED journey: choosing a fantastic brand that I am proud to be associated with. The key message to this appointment is be prepared to give your time for nothing whilst the entity gets to know you and ensure you have passion for the brand if and when an opportunity arises. A not-for-profit engagement can lead to other appointments in the long run.
My recent board positions have all been as a result of networking. Again, it often involves a limited amount of pro-bono time upfront. Although you may find this hard to realise – it is good for both you and them. It is important that the working style and culture of the company is a match for all before leaping in with two feet. As they say “hire slow, fire fast”. Upfront pro-bono activity has realised a further two board appointments on my journey.
Do not be shy to be very specific about your aspirations with key folk within your network. Upon mentioning to a trusted advisor, Jo Haigh, that I was interested in a new NED position – she examined my skillset and immediately matched me to one of her entrepreneurial and rapidly growing subsidiary companies that were seeking a Chair. The rest is history – but had I of not made Jo aware of my desires, it is unlikely I would have my most recent appointment of Chair at SetSquare Staging Limited – a position I absolutely love. Her ability to join the dots quickly is second to none.
So, hopefully, this gives you some ideas of how to approach building your NED portfolio – volunteer, network and communicate.
Another final key point I would add is that so many aspiring NEDs do not quantify achievements in their bio. What does this mean? Do not just mention that you led a team – state you led a team of 100. Do not just write “closed sales deals” – state you generated £5m of revenue. As a NED you are expected to bring commercial acumen and strategic direction to the table. The hiring team will need to be inspired in this regard when it comes to your bio. Make sure you stand out from the crowd.