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A BCKR success story shares his route map to success.

A BCKR success story shares his route map to success.

Last week we were pleased to welcome back Richard Gubbins. He is a former BCKR member and success story having found a role as chair at Henderson Value Trust plc. He was joined by Tim Stephenson of Stephenson & Co, the headhunter who was instrumental in his appointment. They shared their route map to success with us.

Here is a summary of what they had to say.

Richard’s journey
Richard’s journey started in 2010 when he met BCKR directors Guy Beringer and Bill Knight at a presentation at Ashurst. Charlie Geffen, former Ashurst Senior Partner, had already formed a group called ‘Life outside Ashurst’ to which Richard belonged. Guy’s message was that it was difficult to find a life after Law. The message was clear:

1. Boards are generally reluctant to hire lawyers
2. The Gender diversity issue, particularly in 2010, was certainly not helpful to men

Nonetheless, Richard resolved to start pursuing a plural career and tried to put together a compelling CV, which can be difficult when you have been at the same firm for 30 years! He looked to start with an ‘easy win’ and set off with great enthusiasm to land his first role. He was delighted to be appointed to the Audit committee of the England and Wales Cricket Board and his hopes were raised when a headhunter mentioned a Charity Trustee role – but he never made it past the first interview stage. At this point, still busy at Ashurst, he gave up!

In 2013 Richard began to take his search much more seriously. He further reduced his time commitment to Ashurst, toured around the headhunters and took the advice he’d been given to work his personal network very hard. He established a good rapport with Odgers, who put him forward for a NHS Trust NED role. Although the interview process made him realise he wasn’t particularly passionate about the role, he was rather surprised to be told he didn’t make the final round of interviews due to a “lack of clinical experience”!

A good friend told him that you need a bit of luck to get onto a Board – and it was through an introduction to Tim Stephenson that got Richard the break he was looking for.

Tim Stephenson
When Tim met Richard, he had just been retained by a client to help restructure a very dysfunctional plc. board (of a closed end Investment Trust). Fundamentally, the Chairman of the Board and the Chair of the Audit committee hated each other! Tim’s mandate was to replace them both.

A broad mix of skills was sought, including:
– corporate governance knowledge and skills
– a strategic approach
– experience of emerging markets
– people management and leadership experience
– knowledge of senior remuneration

When Tim met Richard it was clear to him that he possessed these qualities – his legal expertise in itself was irrelevant. And though the client’s interview process also proved pretty dysfunctional, the Board agreed with Tim’s recommendation that they appoint Richard to the board. Shortly after Tim called Richard to say the Board had decided that he should in fact take over as Chairman, which he duly did, although there were some quite challenging twists before he finally took the reins!

Tim’s thoughts on Headhunters
Superficiality, headhunters are often seen as selfish people who want to make money! However, his role is to serve his clients by not only finding out what it is that the client really wants, but also being prepared to tell them what they should want! Incidentally, headhunters generally don’t like NED appointments, as the fees tend to be quite low!

Investment Trusts
There are certainly some advantages of being on the Board of an Investment Trust.
– it provides plc. experience
– the effective daily rate for a mainstream FTSE 250 board is c.£2250; for closed end Trusts, £3000 per day is typical, given the less frequent Board meetings.
– Directors’ risk is lower for Investment Trusts, given everything is fully transparent – the Trust’s investments can be clearly seen

Lawyers on boards?
In Tim’s experience, Investment Trusts are open to the idea of lawyers on their boards, especially if they have sector knowledge.
But with any company, once they have experience of having a lawyer on their board, they tend to want to replace them with another lawyer when their term reaches its end. So it is a good idea to target Boards where a lawyer is due to step down fairly soon!

Other advice for getting onto Boards
– identify and approach companies that work in sectors where you also have plenty of experience
– don’t leave it too late – start looking in you mid-late 50s
– it is vital to let your network know that you have started to develop a plural career
– leverage personal and family contacts
– work your network; attend seminars, lunches, dinners etc. Make it clear what you are looking for
– by all means seek public sector and not for profit sector roles – but limit these to no more than two, for a well-balanced portfolio
– finally, don’t expect instant success – typically it takes a couple of years to build a portfolio.