bckr | BCKR Event: Mervyn Davies – the Chairman’s perspective
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BCKR Event: Mervyn Davies – the Chairman’s perspective

BCKR Event: Mervyn Davies – the Chairman’s perspective

This week we have been delighted to welcome Mervyn Davies as our guest speaker. Baron Davies of Abersoch CBE is a former banker and was a UK government minister until 2010. He is Vice Chairman and Partner at Corsair Capital and non-Executive Chairman of PineBridge Investments. He is Senior Independent Director at Diageo, and Chair of the Advisory Board of Moelis and Co. He is chairman of Chime Communications plc. In November 2013, he was announced as the inaugural chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, planning a planted bridge over the Thames in London.

During his talk he gave us the Chairman’s Perspective along with the view that Lawyers might be the answer to greater diversity of thought in the boardroom.


Mervyn began his talk by telling us why he got involved in diversity in the boardroom.

When, as CEO of Standard Chartered Bank, he went to his first management meeting in Asia, he was immediately shocked by the number of women around the table – around 75%. He gave his presentation and felt that with everyone looking him in the eye, all were fully engaged in what he was saying and that he’d done a good job. Not so. When he came out of the meeting he was pulled aside and told that – like so many ex-pats who come to Asia – he did not understand the concept of ‘losing face’. He had failed to understand the need to avoid eye contact. He ended up having to apologise to the group that same day and only then did they really let him know what they were thinking.

Through his experience of working in Asia he learned an incredible amount about managing women and outstanding people and it changed his perception of women in the business world completely.

When many years later he got into government he commissioned an economist to write a paper on what needed fixing in the UK, which set out the need for:

  • A 10-30 year infrastructure plan
  • More women in the boardroom with more flexible working practices
  • More clusters of activity to generate growth and
  • A cross party strategic plan for health, education, taking the politics out.

Not long after that – watching TV – he discovered that he had been announced as the new minister of infrastructure!

It was then that he began his campaign for women in the work place. When he started 24% of FTSE companies had never had a woman on the board. Already we have seen a major cultural change at board level but this is only the beginning. The next challenge is to increase the number of women securing executive positions.

When it comes to the difference between men and women boards – it’s Venus vs Mars. When it comes to lawyers, that is another category altogether!

Lawyers are known for:

  • Being analytical
  • Working ‘under the bonnet’ in partnerships
  • Serving clients’ needs

But their method of networking is different to that of the corporate world. So when you come to the end of your career and you are ready to throw yourself on to the scene, what do you need to do?

Work at it really hard
Start to look at it much earlier
Evaluate your skills
Find a way of illustrating your creativity
Show that you can be a team player
Think about who you know – make a mind-map of your network – friends, clients, family.
Draw up a plan of what you would like your portfolio to look like in 5 years time:
industries you are interested in
how much income you need
how much pro-bono work you can take on
where your passions lie
Get a coach or mentor – all successful people will have taken this kind of self improvement route – even if they don’t admit it.
Invest in becoming an all-rounder
It is essential to have a knowledge of social media and an understanding of the omni-channel digital world as that is at the forefront of all boards’ concerns at the moment – it is the No.1 agenda item.
Read the Financial Times – every day. It will give you a wide sense of what boards are dealing with.
Headhunters – think who could be your referee to make an introduction to a headhunter. It is very hard to get their attention otherwise. If you find you aren’t making any progress with a headhunter – move on and find someone else.
Don’t be afraid of rejection

Lawyers are an attractive option to pre-IPO vehicles, but how to get in?

Trawl the private equity world by talking to partners in your own firms who are working with private companies
Go to your network for introductions
Think about what sectors excite you and research them
Go to the headhunter who is doing the recruitment for a role you’ve heard about
Contact the company directly
Look at small ventures – could be local to you
How do get the balance right?

Only do what interests you – if you are aren’t enjoying it get out
Keep referring to your life plan – strike balance between not for profit and corporate boards
Take on one ‘meaty’ role that interests you (possibly two)

There is no reason why every lawyer who wants to be, shouldn’t be on a board. If you were in America it would be a different thing. It’s about building up your confidence and going for it.