Practical tips for lawyers from Joelle Warren of Warren Partners
This week BCKR members were delighted to be joined by Joelle Warren, founder of Warren Partners, a search firm with a strong specialist board practice, which makes a big point of knowing their candidates as well as their clients.
She had some extremely useful advice for lawyers looking to move into Non Executive Director roles. A summary of her main points can be found below.
Notes from Joelle Warren;
There is an annual maximum of c.700 FTSE 350 board vacancies. So, as a NED candidate, broaden the landscape and look at opportunities elsewhere. Around 75% of non-executive appointments still depend significantly on networking. A Chairman will already have five or so CVs (from network approaches) in his bottom drawer – ideally your CV needs to be one of those.
Lawyers have two main problems to overcome:
• how to sell themselves and their experience as business people, rather than as lawyers
• the tendency to wait until retirement before gaining initial NED experience
To overcome these, click here to look at the UK Corporate Governance Code. It can help you not only to understand the NED role better, but also to consider your own relevant experience and the need to reflect this in your CV. For example:
• ‘non-executive directors should constructively challenge and help develop proposals on strategy’ These are skills and experience that lawyers use all the time, working with clients, or equally, within your firm, in some form of leadership role. They need to be expressed in your CV. Headhunters look for these words.
• ‘Non-executive directors should scrutinise the performance of management’. Your CV should illustrate that you are financially savvy so where possible, talk about increases in profitability, management of budgets etc. Make sure you have financial measures, numbers and percentages in your CV. Show you are personally commercially aware and successful.
• ‘They should satisfy themselves on the integrity of financial information and that financial controls and systems of risk management are robust and defensible’. Risk is a lawyer’s sweet spot. You assess and advise on risk everyday. This includes topics such as reputation and intellectual property management.
Consider too, and reflect your experience with:
People – NEDs (especially when working on Remuneration or Nominations committees) need to be able to advise on remuneration, appointments, dismissals and succession planning. Lawyers are independent minded and highly skilled at evidence analysis.
Stakeholder engagement – An ability to reflect the views of major shareholders – part of a lawyer’s ‘day job’.
Joelle’s Top Tips
• Tell your network you want a role!
• Look at how your CV is presented
o Maximum 2 sides.
o Contact details at the top
o Start with a short profile – set out briefly what you are offering and reflect what you think the NED role and headhunters might be looking for in you (eg sectors, geographic experience etc)
o Detail any existing NED experience. Be imaginative – don’t be afraid to include something like Treasurer of the Golf club. Be sure to include relevant text-search terms such as “non-executive, Risk, FMGC etc”
o Detail your executive experience but express in terms of NED competencies. Mention your firm’s size, turnover, prestigious reputation etc. Set the scene, and don’t provide endless technical legal detail.
o Make sure you are on LinkedIn and put as much on your profile as you are happy to have in the public domain. LinkedIn is looked at as a way of identifying candidates, nowadays even by Chairmen.
o End your CV with a couple of lines on your interests. Interests provide the links to create a bond and allow recruiters some way to get a measure of these people.
o Headhunters are looking for a piece of information on which ‘to hang their hat’. Find as many ways to mention different sector experience as possible.
• Have a clear idea of the kind of NED roles you want to target. If it’s a FTSE company then you do have to go through the headhunters
• Some headhunters can be prima donnas and hard to get meetings with. So try therefore to get to know the headhunter’s researcher. Offer to help them find people in their searches (as a ‘source’). Each major HH needs to be a carefully considered campaign in itself.
• If 75% of non-exec roles come through networking, concentrate 75% of your efforts on your network
• For smaller companies (SMEs) then Lawyers, Accountants and Bankers are also ones to ‘woo’ for NED roles – they are often asked to recommend (or even find) NEDs for their clients.
Are lawyers competing with The Big Four accountancy firms?
• Clearly, a lawyer won’t get Chair of the Audit Committee but there is a bigger demand now for NEDs with experience in areas like technology, marketing and HR. The danger is that non-exec teams are beginning to match the executive team in terms of competencies (possibly at the expense of diverse experience).
• Getting breadth on the board is vital and many Chairs see the benefits of variety on the board, for example through appointing female NEDs, who often change the nature of debate around the table (sometimes this may meet with resistance at the outset, while the Chair and the Board dynamics adjust).