bckr | BCKR Breakfast with Sir Roger Carr
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BCKR Breakfast with Sir Roger Carr

BCKR Breakfast with Sir Roger Carr

This week we were pleased to welcome Sir Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems and Vice Chairman of the BBC Trust to our members Breakfast.

Sir Roger has had a distinguished career in the UK Boardroom. His executive career was spent primarily at Williams Holdings – a conglomerate which he built into a major industrial group with Brian McGowan and Nigel Rudd – where he was ultimately Group CEO.

He has subsequently been Chairman of Chubb (when Williams Holdings was emerged into Kidde and Chubb), Mitchells & Butler, Cadbury (which included the contested take-over by Kraft) and Thames Water. He was also President of the CBI (2011-13) and Deputy Chairman of the Court of the Bank of England.

He is currently the Chairman of BAE Systems (since 2014), Senior Adviser to KKR and a Visiting Fellow of Said Business School.

Summary of Meeting with Sir Roger Carr

Lawyers have a fundamental challenge, as the skills that you have been valued for throughout your career are less valued in the outside world. You need to recognise this and take stock, as skillset and mindset are the two main hurdles.

Of course boards and companies can buy in legal advice or employ legal general counsel skills, so why hire a lawyer as a NED? Also, for board committees your skills, while admittedly useful, are not ‘obvious’, like the accountants who can slot straight on to Audit Committees. However, for RemCos your skills could be relevant.

But there is a need for successful, busy people to have a continued purpose. They have a drive to continue a career, at a time when most people retire earlier and earlier. Although lawyers find it harder to get on to Boards, the legal profession is potentially a great starting point. All lawyers are expected to have clarity of mind, analytical skills, intellectual rigour and ability to drive through complexity. These skills are definitely respected and understood. That legal foundation itself is very well respected.

The NED role is one where influence, rather than power, is important. ‘Influencing’ should play to the lawyer’s strengths.
For example, one avenue that lawyers have moved into successfully, using these skills well, is Oxbridge colleges or other academic institutions, where ‘herding the academic cats’ is needed; that plays to the skills senior lawyers have gained.. Giles Henderson at Pembroke College Oxford is a good example (ex-Slaughter and May).

Those with top legal careers are perhaps better suited to becoming chairman, rather than a board member, since most NEDs are recruited with a particular skill set/specialisation in mind. And as legal skills are rarely demanded, the chairman’s role plays to the broader experience lawyers have gained.

There’s a degree of reinvention required for all of us. ANd for lawyers, the reinvention by ‘doing’ is critical. The classic Charity Trustee Board pathway is open to lawyers. Join a good size charity board, where you can add value through your values, ethics, rigour. Get a role with a charity with a degree of brand and scale, to broaden the CV in a way that starts to be useful for a future commercial NED roles. Chairing or serving as a NED for this sort of entity adds value to the CV and improves and broadens your skill set. It is life enriching and satisfying. It should also increase your chances of getting on other types of board, for example the public sector and the arts.

There is a group of people in the headhunter world who are particularly worth working with. Be selective. Saxton Bampfylde and Odgers are key players to get to know for non-commercial roles. There are good transitioning roles handled at these firms in particular. There are also smaller business too, where there’s more of a personal touch – Julia Budd at Zygos, and Carol Leonard at Inzito for exaample, but broadly headhunters see their NED list as ‘stock for sale’. if you can try to get someone as an informal mentor in one of the prominent search firms, someone who feels some obligation to you and will champion you.

And do continue to network. Don’t disappear from view. You need to be seen to be present, engaged – and visibly wanting to be engaged. This is part of the battle for the whole of life, and portfolio life in particular. Law is good training, a good job, a comfortable ‘box’ for much of your career. A wonderful foundation. But a huge mindset change is required when you leave and start selling yourself. Keep the networks open, get your network to be a champion for you.

You need to be patient. It takes time for your own personal reinvention to be recognised. Choose your roles carefully. Don’t fill your time with roles that are ‘goods no one else wants to buy’. And do your due diligence! Be careful of your reputation and don’t join a ‘burning platform’.