Getting Lawyers On Board – Great Advice From Lesley Knox
We are pleased to bring you a summary of the last BCKR members briefing with banker,lawyer and experienced Non Executive Director Lesley Knox.
Lesley Knox’s career started at Slaughter and May, but she soon took up an International Law scholarship in Amsterdam, qualified as a US lawyer and worked as a lawyer in New York for a year too. Along the way, she discovered that she really enjoyed business more than law, so transferred into financial services with her first position in Kleinworts. At that time, only two lawyers had ever joined the bank – the perception being that “lawyers can’t count” – but luckily it was the era of privatisation and mounds of documentation, a comfortable area for lawyers! Lesley had moved in the world of investment banking. And from that, over time, Lesley moved on into the NED world, gradually building a very extensive portfolio in the private and charitable sectors.
The positive attributes for the NED world from a legal background:
1. Not being afraid to ask questions (this is second nature to a lawyer)
2. Not being put off by the use of jargon (lawyers often underestimate their general skills)
3. Exposure to a huge variety of businesses (a benefit that not many other professions have)
4. Real specialisms, such as property, oil & gas, international
5. Management skills (having possibly run a team, department or firm)
1. NEDs need to contribute to strategy – don’t get typecast as ‘the lawyer’. Don’t be the pedant (there will always be one on the board, but he won’t be accused of it being just because he’s a lawyer). Try and identify areas on the board that you can contribute to that are outside your day job skills
2. Lack of commercial experience – you need to learn to read a balance sheet. Take a course if necessary or invest in a unit trust so that it brings some meaning to you and you will find it more interesting. You just need to be proficient enough to recognise trends and to have a sense of commercial implications
How to you take the first step?
Start small – get on the board of a charity, not-for-profit or school. This will give you the opportunity to discover if this is really something you want to do. It will also give you a chance to build your all-important NETWORK and pick-up referees for future roles
Try to get on an F&A committee
Find out if your firm would support you taking a secondment into the private sector to gain crucial commercial experience.
Don’t underestimate what you already know of your clients’ businesses and how they might be able to help you.
Look at the FTSE 350. It can be a great starting place and a lawyer would be very helpful to a smaller company.
Sports can be a good place to look – if that’s your passion.
For lawyers time will always be an issue but once you have decided that this is the route you want to pursue then you will need to commit time and possibly some money towards your future.
As a chair, when you are looking to find a NED – when you set the brief – do you ever set the criteria specifically? E.g. I want a lawyer?
In the FS, insurance and energy sector you would most likely be looking for someone with sector experience. But, in other industries you may well simply be looking for the right balance on your board
How do you get into a smaller family business?
You tend to get in through recommendations e.g. from other trustees.
Look at areas where you have experience and try and get an introduction.
Investment and managing wealth are key areas in family run businesses.
How can you find out about the culture of a board before committing?
You can look at broker reports, talk to the accountants, take a look at the chief executive – however, even having done your research there are no guarantees. Be prepared for anything.
Many headhunters have a group of people who they know and love dearly.
They don’t necessarily do their homework.
The ring the people they know so it can be quite a small pool they recruit from.
As a chair you do have to use headhunters, however Lesley (and many chairmen) will also ask every board member to put forward recommendations.
What about the risk versus reward ratio
There is a time commitment relating to being on a board and the pay is not huge.
But Lesley really enjoys learning. She earns much less than if she worked in private equity but you don’t do it for the money.
You do need to be certain it is a route you want to take.