A trustee’s guide to the board with Louis Taylor – Chief Executive UK Export Finance (UKEF)
This week BCKR was pleased to welcome Louis Taylor to our monthly Breakfast Event – here is a summary of his talk, including valuable information about serving on public sector boards and how lawyers can help.
Louis Taylor is the Chief Executive of UK Export Finance (UKEF). He started his career with 8 years at JP Morgan, before moving in-house, working in corporate finance and strategic planning at several major corporates. He worked for many years for Standard Chartered, eventually running Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for them, before moving into the public sector. Although he does not have a legal background, his late father was Lord Chief Justice and his sister is a High Court Judge.
Louis also has experience of chairing charity boards, including a charity established in memory of his mother, that helps prison inmates, as well as serving on the board of governors of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle. Louis’ career experience has therefore spanned continents, sectors, organisation structures and jurisdictions.
There is a very wide range of public sector bodies with boards requiring directors or trustees. These span government departments, museums and galleries, regulators, the NHS, expert advisory bodies, government owned companies such as Ordnance Survey, as well as financial institutions, eg the Green Investment Bank, and more.
In total there are in excess of 600 organisations, with more than 6,000 people serving on their boards. Each board, naturally, demands of its NEDs a high degree of commitment, a responsible attitude, time invested in understanding the entity and a genuine enthusiasm for the role and aims of that organisation. Such roles are definitely not a sinecure.
Governance in public bodies is, in principle, pretty similar to the corporate world. Directors of public bodies have largely similar duties to corporate directors and, additionally, they have to adhere to the public sector fiduciary guidelines on managing public money and other aspects of managing public life. Some boards are purely advisory, like UKEF’s board, while some have a formal decision-making remit.
In most cases there are also regulatory requirements to be observed. In the case of UKEF, there is particular focus on OECD rules, covering, for example where and how UKEF can operate, and how it should take account of local law, for example covering bribery and corruption.
What are the biggest differences between public and private sector boards?
Firstly, managing public money. NEDs have a duty to ensure the safeguarding of public funds and that public assets are managed responsibly, efficiently, economically and effectively.
Secondly, clear adherence to the seven ‘Nolan’ principles of public life. These are:
– honesty, and
Can lawyers add anything to public sector bodies?
A huge amount. A lawyer on a Board provides the broad legal view, as well as having many skills and relevant experience. Day to day, the Government Legal Service deals pretty effectively with the legal risks (just as a General Counsel does for a corporate board). There’s a particular drive just now to improve the general commercial ‘clout; of government boards, and lawyers therefore may have something of a ‘ticket in’ at present.
There is much to do and to learn, in an unfamiliar context, e.g. issues such as government budgetary planning, project and service delivery models, public/private sector collaboration, strategic personnel issues, performance management, operational capability assessment, and so on.
Any new or potential NED needs to show broad judgement skills, a breadth of commercial understanding, evidence of commitment to and recognition of the value of public institutions and also a commitment to the ethos of public service. Managing multiple stakeholders is another important skill and your experience as a lawyer should have developed this attribute. You’ll bring the added perspective you gain back to the ‘day job’ or to future NED roles in the private sector.
How does recruitment to public sector bodies work?
The processes are more formal and structured than the private sector. All vacancies are advertised, with clear criteria, and are open to all. Most such vacancies are advertised on the Cabinet Office Public Appointments webpage, and are approved by the relevant government minister – which can often delay matters!
Interviews are somewhat formulaic, typically with the same people asking the same questions (to all the candidates) but not diverting away from a tight, pre-agreed interview plan. This can be frustrating for both sides, as ‘supplementary’ questions are discouraged for the sake of uniformity and ‘fairness’.
How should we prepare to compete for roles?
Talk to NEDs from the public sector and consider which type of organisation/area interests you, and what you can bring. Then talk to and learn from as many relevant people as you can. Get to as many relevant senior networking events as possible. You need to be someone who is prepared to ‘work a room’ and make and follow-up new relevant contacts.
Meet the right headhunters – Saxton Bampfylde and Odgers are very well established in the Public sector, but some of the broadly based global firms like Korn Ferry and Russell Reynolds are also relevant.
Once you are shortlisted, prepare well for the recruitment process. Read up on the organisation – huge amounts of information is available on most Public sector organisations’ websites. Find out who is interviewing you at each stage and then research them – think also about the motivations of the people interviewing you, and work out in advance what they’re going to be asking.
In summary, the public sector potentially offers some fascinating and very satisfying roles to those who wish to become involved. You will learn a great deal and should be able to benefit from the experience, not only in your current role but, potentially, also when the time comes to focus on a portfolio career.