bckr | Josyane Gold: Networking, focus and persistence – the key to attaining your first role
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Josyane Gold: Networking, focus and persistence – the key to attaining your first role

Josyane Gold: Networking, focus and persistence – the key to attaining your first role

We recently welcomed Josyane Gold, retired lawyer, to BCKR to share her thoughts with us.

Zygos appointed Josyane to the board of Electra Private Equity, a FTSE 250 investment trust, 5 years ago, after retiring from her 25-year career as a corporate partner at S J Berwin.  At that time there was no structure or support for senior partners thinking about life after the law, so she felt she had to be very strategic about her transition, particularly once she’d decided to go down the route of looking for non-executive roles.

She spoke to her managing partner about this transition, explaining that it would take time to find the first roles but that if she succeeded, it would be positive for the firm and would reflect well on the practice.  She negotiated a phased departure over 3 years, reducing her equity accordingly and then moving to a consultancy role at 3 days per week.

Josyane felt she needed the time to draw a line under her legal career.  She suggested a financial package to the managing partner that included access to a senior coach or career adviser of her choice (at the firm’s cost) for 18 months.  She felt this was necessary, so she could learn more about the world outside law since she had been so heavily focused on her legal career, and she didn’t really know what her skills were beyond the legal ones.

Josyane began the process of looking for her first role by examining her goals, skills and what really mattered to her.  The consultant helped her recognise and understand her skills and how they were transferable and also helped with creating a new CV.

Networking was where it started.  She had lots of introductions from people who had gone through the process of retiring, or joining the non-executive world.  She began meeting with headhunters and looked at roles in listed and unlisted companies.  She didn’t really know where she was heading.  Without fail, the headhunters told her that they NEVER received a mandate for lawyers – which was rather deflating.  Though saying that – her first role did come through a recruiter.

Critically Josyane’s recommendation is that you focus on your own network.  She had coffees left right and centre with clients, letting them know that she was looking, making connections all the time.  Your first role will inevitably come directly or indirectly from your connections.

She attended seminars, joined the FT NED club and took relevant courses.

She spent time on her on-line profile, creating a website and up-dating her Linked-In profile.

After a few months, she received a call from a headhunter regarding the role at Electra, who were looking to recruit a non-exec (to replace a retiring board member) with someone with a legal background!  Josyane felt comfortable in that sector and coincidentally the retiring director was an old client who had come to see Josyane 6 years prior regarding taking on the role herself at Electra.  There is no doubt – for the first time in her career – that diversity worked in her favour for this appointment.

For Josyane it was a perfect starting point.  She undertook plenty of due diligence, got up to speed on corporate governance and got straight down to a full induction process.  There were 6 board members, all fully independent non-execs.  The role of the board was to choose and supervise the fund manager.  A wholly non-executive structure, which works to a point but when something crops up, it all falls apart a bit.

Josyane was engaged for 20 days a year including the AGM and strategy day.  The board was diverse in terms of men and women and skills.  There was an excellent dynamic and they built constructive relationships with the manager.  Josyane learned a lot from her fellow board members.  It probably took 3 years to feel confident in that role but thereafter, she felt she had properly made the shift from the role of an adviser to that of principal.

She wasn’t initially clear where she could contribute.  It took time to find her feet and understand that she had something to say.  The process was accelerated by the arrival of an ‘activist’ board member.  It was a fascinating, if time consuming, period but it proved that she did have something to bring to the table.  During that process she saw the best and worst of listed boards.  Ultimately the activist took control of the board and most of the previous board members resigned.

After leaving Electra Josyane joined the board of advisers for Palamon, where she is highly involved with the investment team.  She has built up an ambassadorial role with Palamon.

She is also mentoring several former clients and doing some charity work alongside.

Observations:

  • Seek assistance at the start of your transition to help you with re-packaging yourself.
  • Work your own network.
  • Start thinking about this step early.
  • Focus on an industry sector where you have experience – all options are open after your first role.
  • If serious about building a portfolio – take on other roles during your first role – don’t wait.
  • Undertake careful due diligence before taking on your first role – but it won’t tell you everything.
  • Continue learning and networking through seminars etc.
  • Persevere – it is a satisfying and challenging route to take post law.

 

Q&A

When you joined Electra did it operate in the way you expected?

The first thing that hit her was that so much is financial.  Looking at performance, running through valuations (not her background).  Others around the board table were better equipped.  It took a while to recognise that this was not a problem.

She thought she’d be required to be a funds specialist but that wasn’t really the case.  She was put on the Management Engagement committee which was all about building relationships managers and this really spoke to her skills.

Taking time to understand the dynamics of the board and what other members had to add was important in recognising her own skills.

All your preparation can only take you so far.  The rest you learn on the job.  On the whole as a lawyer, you don’t get to see the decisions being made, so you are not there seeing the full panoply of things the board are discussing.

Josyane was lucky to have a very supportive Chairman who took her aside once and said she was doing a good job but that she didn’t look like she was enjoying it (which was probably true).  At that point she gave herself permission to do so.

 

Were there skills that you had never been required to use as a lawyer that you have since had to learn?

She was attracted by the notion of being a principal rather than adviser.  That was the main change.  During one verification process at Electra, Allen & Overy were up all night working on the verification notes.  Josyane went to bed and just had to sign the papers in the morning.  That really brought home to her that she was now in a different role.

It is good to get out of your comfort zone.  Comfort can mean coasting.  You learn quickly on the job.  It is scary but suddenly you realise from a business perspective that you understand so much more about how a business runs.  You never lose the fear that things will go wrong – but that is what keeps the adrenalin pumping.  Don’t shy away from the numbers.

Lawyers haven’t helped themselves by not building their profiles whilst in full time practice – so take more time to prove themselves.

 

How is being a lawyer informing your contribution around the board table?

  • Analytical skills – the ability to assimilate and articulate
  • Breadth of contact and industry knowledge
  • Risk