Investment Banker Simon Warshaw with – The Outsider’s View
This week we were delighted to welcome Simon Warshaw from Robey Warshaw to our regular BCKR Breakfast meeting. As a leading investment banker Simon regularly comes across lawyers and chairmen, and is well placed to tell members how lawyers are perceived by the boards he advises. Simon is also a NED himself and sits on the Corporate Advisory Board of the National Theatre – which advises and supports the Theatre’s relationships with the corporate sector.
Simon set up Robey Warshaw with Simon Robey after 27 years as a global investment banker at UBS. While the firm’s work is focused on transactions, the model is based on the creation and maintenance of long term relationships. They serve their clients on a retained basis and advise on a wider range of issues than transactions alone.
What do people think about lawyers?
• there is more complexity and regulation which would suggest that the ground would become more fertile for lawyers in the boardroom
• non-commercial organisations such as in the arts and charity sectors are becoming more regulated so the skills that lawyers can bring should surely be sort after
• many lawyers bring a broad range of skills and commercial aptitude that compliments the other skills in the board room
However, it is undeniable that some embedded bias exists against lawyers as NEDs, and you need to overcome this, ie:
• a view that there’s no room/no need – companies can already call on their general counsel or legal advisers for the help they anticipate you can give help
• not having the right skill set – typical stereotypical views held about lawyers include that they find it difficult to reach clear cut decisions, lack commerciality and that “lawyers don’t do numbers”.
So, the challenges are great but the flip side of the coin is that with the best lawyers you get;
• strong relationship skills
• an ability to get quickly to what matters and what doesn’t
• the ability to distill facts and give a view and to provide a moral compass
The NED appointment process
This is a mix of formal and informal inputs;
• the headhunter will draw up the long(ish) list – the challenge is to get on it
• at the shortlist stage skills may be reviewed and advice will be taken from connections (hence one of the important aspects of networking)
• from then on it might be a case of box checking skills, diversity, fit and probably most importantly, chemistry.
One of the great benefits of networking is that it can place you top of mind with the senior people who are often asked to make recommendations and referrals to headhunters for specific NED vacancies.
Everyone you meet in business could become a friend, competitor, client or potential referee. So, you need to make sure you are always leaving someone with a good impression. There are fewer good positions than there are people to fill them and so you have to give yourself a leg-up.
Bear in mind also that it can be surprisingly hard to find opportunities in areas that really interest you.
Get advice and support – It can be a good idea to seek advice from a mentor outside your everyday life to guide you, or from colleagues who have travelled the same portfolio career path as you are now embarking on.
How to present yourself
Initially it is a good idea to seek some board experience by becoming a trustee of charity, not for profit or arts organisation. This can help position you for possible private sector NED roles.
You need to be able to demonstrate elements of commercial input and management, so seek out as much leadership or strategic roles within your firm, again to position you for external roles. Building up these credentials is important. Perhaps join the CSR or sponsorship committees within your firm, to broaden your perspectives.
When you are seeking to make an impression, you often only get one shot. You need to demonstrate passion and enthusiasm. Highlight your relevant skills, come up with examples that are relevant to the vacancy. Demonstrate you have a balance of law and commercial skills, and be ‘someone others want in the room’.
During NED appointments, there seems increasingly to be something of a move away from purely headhunter-sourced candidates towards general top-level referrals. But remember you have to do the rounds with the headhunters, keep them up to date with changes in your CV and the interests you’d like to pursue. You need to cultivate the headhunters so ultimately they become your ‘champion’.
Finally, do examine your ambitions and preferences. Do you really want to be on the board of a FTSE company where essentially you will be required to scrutinize rather than make the important decisions – sometimes you get more out of the smaller enterprises, as well as the not-for-profit sector.