How do lawyers get on the board? A summary of what we’ve learned so far.
This week we have been pulling together all the advice we have received during these sessions and taking stock. Our guide was BCKR’s resident executive careers coach Nick Aitchison. Here is a summary of what he had to say.
Having attended most of the BCKR sessions over the last 18 months, I thought it was time to reflect on what we have learnt, and ask ourselves:
• should we be encouraged or discouraged?
• and what should we do next?
We have not been short of good advice, for example from Roger Carr, Mervyn Davies, Marcus Agius; from Lloyd Dorfman (Travelex) and John Heaps (formerly Eversheds, now chairing the Yorkshire Building Society) and Paul Drechsler (until recently the President of the CBI).
We have been carefully caressed by the board headhunters – Spencer Stuart, Korn Ferry, Norman Broadbent, Saxton Bampfylde and the like. We have had intriguing insights into Academy Schools, Business Angels, the NHS and Private Equity, as well as social media, cyber security and the governance of the Arts and Cultural institutions.
All our speakers have commended your profession as full of very bright, likeable, serious minded, tenacious people, though some have also hinted that you are seen as:
• quite narrowly specialised.
• to be called upon only when strictly necessary
• less visible and less engaged than other types of senior advisor
• and, possibly, one step removed from the real world of commerce.
As for headhunters, they are largely driven by securing the next search mandate, agreeing a realistically achievable person specification and completing the search quickly and painlessly. As far as I recall, none of our guest headhunters had ever been asked specifically to submit lawyers as candidates, other than in the not for profit sector – and nor was I, during multiple NED searches.
So – are we downhearted? Possibly? Well it may be a degree of comfort to know that I hear similar concerns from many of my non-lawyer clients seeking NED and Trustee roles. They often start out with the attitude that unless you have been a CEO or CFO you have little chance, particularly within the FTSE.
However the statistics tell us that all is not lost. Currently the percentage of NEDs in FTSE 350 who have earlier been either a CEO or a CFO is around 55%. So who are the rest, the other 45% – or ‘the 45% Club’ as I term it? They are highly diverse in their backgrounds and include:
* investment bankers
* management consultants
* Big 4 partners
* HR directors
* marketing Directors
• chief technology officers
• a variety of others drawn from the Media, the Arts, the Public Sector, the Armed Forces – even a few lawyers.
So how did the 45% Club members get onto boards? Well in my experience they generally have:
• been demonstrably successful in their former careers
• gained some form of leadership experience
• developed and harnessed strong networks at senior levels
• thought hard about what elements of their experience are relevant to Board agendas
• gained a clear understanding of the roles of NEDs and Trustees
• conveyed effectively the relevance of their past experience to potential future Board roles
• developed a good understanding of one or more sectors (trends, key players, risks etc).
• gained an acceptable level of financial acumen (able to read a balance sheet, gained a grasp of funding issues and sources as well as of risk management)
• established their relevance for joining at least one Board committee (risk, remuneration, nominations, audit etc)
Inevitably they will also:
• have invested significant time and effort into the task
• be enthusiastic, personable – and probably lucky as well !
People often say to me “I guess its all about getting the CV right?” Yes it is important, but before developing the CV it is vital to assess which aspects of your experience will resonate in the context of board roles. Remember that it must read as the CV of a potential NED – not as a lawyer’s CV.
Run your CV, and your story, past some non-lawyers to ensure it is sufficiently forward looking and is jargon – free. Our guest Paul Drechsler memorably said to us “a NED’s CV should not be about where you have been, rather it needs to be about what your have become”.
So, in your quest for NED or Trustee roles it is important to
• identify what you bring to Board roles, in what sort of organisation
• communicate that clearly to the right people, in layman’s terms
• network at a sufficiently senior level – to learn and to meet new people
• look forward, not back, and enjoy the search.