bckr | “Prepare for Opportunity” – Board Chair John Heaps and Headhunter John Petri
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“Prepare for Opportunity” – Board Chair John Heaps and Headhunter John Petri

“Prepare for Opportunity” – Board Chair John Heaps and Headhunter John Petri

In our final meeting of the Spring Term we were delighted to welcome John Heaps, retiring Chairman of Eversheds and the incoming Chairman of the Yorkshire Building Society. He came back to BCKR to share with members the story of his recruitment, first impressions of how lawyers are viewed by the world outside and how he used his BCKR learnings to best advantage.

John was also joined by John Petri from Egon Zehnder who was instrumental in placing him in this new role. He was able to give us the headhunter’s perspective on why lawyers can sometimes make good NEDs and add his thoughts on how he goes about sourcing candidates for roles.

Here is a summary of what they had to say;

“Chance favours the prepared mind”. Don’t just assume it will happen. It is how you put yourself in a position to react when the opportunity comes along. Two things were key – preparation and networking.

Preparation is a fundamental part, both consciously and sub consciously, in what you should do throughout your career. John had always known that he would want to do something else after leaving Eversheds at 60. Accordingly he took on roles to help him develop the core competencies needed for non-law roles: leadership, understanding of people, financial management. For example, he sat on IBA Committees from early on and on the advisory council of other external organisations. This was, in part, driven by his determination to succeed outside the law and to gather the knowledge and the information to enable him to do so.

Networking – your friends and connections – is a critical piece. Connections directly through your day job are not enough. The friendships and connections which assisted John’s journey were not to do with chairmanship of Eversheds; Steve Radcliffe his coach and old school friend who introduced him a while back to YBS CEO; he played rugby with ex banker now headhunter Philip Marsden who introduced him to Mervyn Davies, and Win Bischoff who he met and got to know well through a common interest in golf.

John Petrie from Egon Zehnder reminded us that it is highly unlikely that others will be as swift in their NED climb as John. The first thing that people in the headhunter and nom com world will look for is what you have done outside your day job, in the firm and externally. Even a hugely successful professional career alone is not enough.

Take opportunities to join outside committees whenever suggested. Don’t be embarrassed by starting at what is a very junior level – in building a second career you need to build a new skill set. The more groundwork you have done the more likely you are to succeed.

Hardest world to move into is financial services – scrutiny by regulator is hard so nom coms want people very knowledgeable about the industry.

Next is the corporate plc – they often want people steeped in the specific industry or at least the plc world.

The next tier of charities, government quangos etc. is much more open to lawyers – the jobs are therefore easier to get, provide a good learning ground and there are many more of them

John’s CV checking and a little bit of reference taking had taken place before John was invited to his first actual meeting with Egon Zehnder. But he was still the outlier because he had no financial services industry experience. The character and ability of the person mattered. It needs to stack up in terms of judgement. The competencies he had described around leadership, financial understanding and how to understand people counted for a lot.

How to become the outlier: a strong IQ is taken as read for senior professionals. Most of the rest is around capabilities with people. Leadership positions in their firm and roles outside will offer evidence of this. Any activities that demonstrate skills beyond your professional qualifications. The less you have done the harder it will be.

Absence of experience in the industry is the curse – accountants are generally no better off than lawyers in this search.

Lawyers are well regarded. They can take complex subjects and translate those concepts into language that others can understand. They have enquiring minds and a natural instinct to understand things – incredibly well.