BCKR Event: Paul Drechsler – the Chairman’s perspective
BCKR members met Paul Drechsler – Chair of Teach First and experienced business leader on November 4, 2014. He shared his ideas on the public and private sector and gave us some valuable pointers on how to prepare yourself for a non executive role. Here is a digest of this valuable talk.
Paul believes there is nothing more rewarding than leading a great organisation. He was with ICI for 25 years and on its board for 5 years. He then joined The Wates Group, a 4th generation family-owned business. Though there were many reasons why he might have chosen not to join a family-owned business, he took a risk and had the best time as a consequence.
Some facts about private sector businesses:
· They make up 1/3 of the UK’s economy – 9 million jobs, 3 million of which are in family businesses
· 2 in 5 private sector companies are family-owned
· They generate £1 trillion in revenue, 25% of total GDP and a total of 15% in tax receipts
Examples of private businesses:
· John Lewis
· Bibby Line
Characteristics that differentiate a family-owned business from a listed company
· They tend to be founded by an individual who wants to hold on to shares or to pass those shares on to other family members
· Management see themselves as stewards of the business for their lifetime
· Short term performance is less important
· They take a lot of decisions with a view to longevity and take risks accordingly
· They tend to be conservative in terms of finance and the balance sheet but also tend to be bigger risk takers
· They are strongly values-based organisations. Roots, depth and substance are important
· They are people focused – tend to think more about their local community as they are their key stakeholders. Their relationships are deeper and longer-lasting as their name is on the door.
· Their philanthropic approach is generally demonstrated through investment of time in the community rather than pure financial investment.
Preparation for a NED Role
You need to treat getting a NED role as a professional sport. This is a very focused and competitive arena. It takes a big investment of time.
· You need a good CV to get you to the table
· You need to practice your interview technique – highly important
· It is important to have clarity of your objectives – you MUST KNOW what you WANT and this takes PREPARATION. Think about WHERE you want to work and WHAT you want to do. Being flexible isn’t actually a good selling point.
Try to gain experience that will enable you to enter the NED world by.
· Working in groups or chairing a group of people
· Pension trusteeships are a great entry point and a good building block. You tend to get a diversity of talent around the table. A great way to get boardroom practice
· Building a network – being part of a team – not as a lawyer – but as a problem solver
· The CBI and Business in the Community are great environments to build experience and confidence
· The Prince’s Trust
What are their boards looking for?
· Diversity really is the vital ingredient of a successful board.
· Boards are looking for great minds and value having professional people around them. Contrary to popular belief boardrooms are looking for solutions not for prejudice.
· They want diversity of views, experience and perspective.
· As a NED you are being recruited as a person NOT AS A LAWYER
· You need to be interested and enthusiastic and it is essential to be aligned in terms of the culture and values of the organisation.
· You will not get rich from it so you better like it!
Using search firms
· They are very dynamic organisations with short memories. It will take an investment of time
· Even if you consider yourself to be a generalist you will have a particular skill-set that you can hone in on.
· Make sure the HH know what areas interest you
· It’s an odds game – frequency is key – keep going back – develop the relationship
· Unnaturally focusing will help your odds – “I can do all of this” doesn’t work.
· Headhunters are low risk takers. They will want their candidates to be endorsed
· The more people that are aware of your search the better. Get out your address book. Use your network.
· If interested in pursuing family businesses – specifiy this to the headhunters but be prepared to give reasons why eg.
o They are multiple dimensional
o They have complex succession planning issues
o Generational issues
Don’t be discouraged. You will lose many more pitches than you win but you should see it as interview practice and an important part of your preparation.
Never underestimate the cumulative value of your experience.