bckr | Stuart Chambers – The Chairman’s Perspective.
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Stuart Chambers – The Chairman’s Perspective.

Stuart Chambers – The Chairman’s Perspective.

We were delighted to welcome Stuart Chambers to BCKR for our latest Breakfast Event.

Stuart spent much of his executive career with Mars, Pilkington and Nippon Glass, before turning to portfolio life. He has since chaired technology company ARM Holdings and packaging giant Rexam, with NED roles on Associated British Ports, Smiths Group, Manchester Airport Group and Tesco. He currently sits as a NED on the Takeover Panel, on the advisory board of Spencer Stuart, is a fellow of SAID Business School and mentors senior board members.

Here is a summary of what we learned;

Stuart’s vast boardroom experience, his knowledge of NED recruitment, and his mentoring role, put him a strong position to guide members into the boardroom. He had a lot to share.

Stuart started his NED career 16 years ago and has since been on eight UK plc boards. One as CEO, two as Chair and five as a NED (chairing the Rem Com on three of these).

How do you go about recruiting NEDs to your boards?

Stuart’s approach is first to examine the nature of the strategic challenge in the business over the next ten years i.e. is it growth, restructure, new markets etc. and then to look at the first-hand experience needed in the executive and non-executive team to meet that challenge.

He would then develop a matrix showing the required skills for that team along the top and the individuals already in post down the left-hand side (with any NED due to exit in next 12-18 months left off) and then it becomes a simple case of filling in the ‘skill-gaps’.

On top of that is the diversity overlay.

Stuart then hands this matrix over to the search firm, who will, every now and then, come up with a few wild card candidates who don’t meet the brief. However, he believes that the smaller the board the more effective the board is – so, if possible he ensures that each NED can tick more than one box on the matrix, taking into account that you need people to chair the Audit Committee and Remco as well as have relevant sector experience, marketing, HR or tech (depending on the business).

What advice would you give to lawyers wanting to follow a NED career?

• Forget about your legal qualification – that is a ‘by the way’ conversation piece. ‘Lawyer’ is never a skill on the matrix as you can buy that advice in.
• It is your skills that you need to sell, whether that be in particular sector knowledge, take-overs, people skills etc.
• Spend time thinking about the areas you have covered in your legal career, what you have done and write your CV that way.
• Think about the companies or types of company you would like to work in. Consider asking headhunters to put you on the long list for those companies if roles come up. Be shameless and enthusiastic with those you meet and let companies know you would love to be on their board if they are ever looking.
• If you haven’t been a NED before – don’t be sizist. A FTSE 250 role would be a good stepping stone to gaining a FTSE 100 role. The issues are broadly the same, they are good fun and tend to need to more help from their boards.
• Not for profits boards are a stepping stone though not necessarily good currency with plc boards.
• Think about getting yourself on an advisory board of another service company. If nothing else – you will rub shoulders with lots of different people who may be useful in your network for future roles.

If you want to pursue a NED career, networking is vital. You need to be ‘in the know’ about what is going on, to be making connections. The payback will be that one of these connections goes on to recommend you for something, having already established a degree of trust in you through your networking activities.

How do you best present yourself on your CV? What would impress Stuart in terms of experience?
• It goes back to the matrix and what experience is needed in the board room.
• You need to define those 2-3 areas where you have significant experience and feel you can add value. Talk about those skills not your brilliant legal career.
• Learn as much as you can about the people on the interview panel and work some of those facts into your conversation.
• Ask the panel questions about their business.
• Show that you are interested, enthusiastic.
• Don’t worry about the finance piece. You wouldn’t expect everyone around the table to be able to answer those questions. That is for the chair of audit. The board room should be a team effort with everyone around it having a different expertise to contribute to the whole.

How do you get on to that first committee?
• Try and look for opportunities in your day job to get some relevant experience e.g. working on remuneration
• If you are working in a particular sector – start establishing your network in that sector as it will pay off in the future.
• Think of building your CV from within your day job
• Risk committees can be a good area for lawyers – avoid becoming the lawyer in the room who says ‘No’ to risk – rather look at ways to make something work whilst considering the risks involved. Companies succeed by taking risks.