bckr | Winning Over The Headhunters – Keys to Success with Rosemary Martin
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Winning Over The Headhunters – Keys to Success with Rosemary Martin

Winning Over The Headhunters – Keys to Success with Rosemary Martin

BCKR recently welcomed lawyer and experienced Non Executive Rosemary Martin.

Alongside her role as General Counsel and Company Secretary at Vodafone, Rosemary sits on the board of HSBC Bank PLC (the European arm of the HSBC Group), is a member of the FSA’s Listing Authority Advisory Committee, is an advisory board member for the Oxford Internet Institute and has taken numerous charitable and fundraising roles alongside.

Here is a summary of what she had to share with us.

Rosemary began her career with a vague goal of being a partner by 30 and a GC by 40 but the way the jigsaw fitted together was driven by an element of chance thereafter. After securing partnership, she did an MBA in legal practice to see how to run law firms which made her disenchanted with her own firm, wanting to run it better. She decided to become a client to improve her understanding of what clients wanted. An opportunity came up at Reuters and she became their Deputy Company Secretary. Not a step down but the best move she made, and she achieved her goal of becoming Company Secretary by 40.

She has been in the board room now for 25 years, so has seen how things work. As GC she was responsible for insurance, overseeing nom com and internal audit, running the Reuters charity and other elements all of which helped her CV and experience for varied NED roles. When Thomson merged with Reuters and effectively got a Canadian head office, Rosemary stepped away – after 11 years. Her next challenge was to be CEO of Practical Law Company, and the CEO title has again helped her NED journey significantly.

While at Reuters, Rosemary was asked to joining the HSBC European Bank board. This came about because she had sat on a (rather dull) regulatory working committee with Douglas Flint who asked her directly. Rosemary served on bank’s board for 11 very interesting years, all through the financial crisis and beyond.

An NHS Trust plus the Legal Services Board were then added to her portfolio and which were both fulfilling and interesting, albeit frustrating roles. These roles gave her great insight into the complexity of working in the public sector. These types of role, if you are interested and have time, are incredibly fulfilling. However, Rosemary had to drop them when taking on Vodafone.

Vodafone approached Rosemary when they were looking for a Company Secretary and GC. She has now been there now for 6 years. She attends the board and committee meetings and it has given her great insight into how big PLCs work.

Rosemary feels she has been very fortunate about how things panned out. Opportunities always seemed to have arisen that related back to things she had done. The kaleidoscope fits together in unexpected ways.

What are the benefits of NED roles? Constantly learning new things. It stimulates the grey cells. You get to meet interesting people. NED roles really enhance one’s ability to do the exec roles.

How do you get in? Get to know the headhunters; lawyers can find it tricky but need to sell themselves as business people since these skills are not recognised by the headhunters as being within the lawyer’s standard competencies; so play up what have you done as business people making your own businesses successful rather than the deals you have been involved with, which tends to be seen as a service – a helpful person on the side.

First of all think about how to get the headhunters to look at you in a different light. Headhunters are obstacles in the process, and don’t really understand lawyers.

Nomination committees’ thinking can be alarmingly shallow – she’s been quite surprised at the processes she’s observed. The mantra of a public fair process has been around for a while, so they bring along a headhunter. But the headhunters have limited briefs and use the same list again and again. The committee will have a (short or long) discussion on skills and experience that they are wanting on the board e.g. need a technology person, but when interviewed they get dismissed as too much in the weeds, so too often revert to the traditional list

She is surprised at how little younger lawyers invest in doing things outside their day jobs. The classic advice of building a network is good advice. Without the network it is hard to make inroads.

CEOs look for other chief execs to go on their board; P&L responsibility on your CV is useful; then finance and understanding numbers; lawyers come far down the list of perceived understanding and experience.

For top companies knowing people, and knowing people who know other people, is still very important – find opportunities to get to meet people through building your network – cold calling people at the top companies (e.g. Vodafone) won’t help much.

Have you found it difficult being the lawyer in the boardroom? Being a lawyer helped her confidence in being able to analyse the board papers, but that’s it. Once on the board no-one really recognises her as a lawyer. Be careful not to appear as a lawyer on the board.

How should you deal with areas of the business you don’t know about? Start with things you do know from the legal side e.g. people, strategy etc. and do that before venturing into the company’s specialist area e.g. the financial services element.

In summary: be realistic about your ambitions and manage your expectations. Smaller or unusual organisations may be more interesting than the FTSE100 roles