How to start building a non-executive portfolio for the long-term - Part 1

26 Jun 2019

How to start building a non-executive portfolio for the long-term - Part 1

Rowan Hillis, Principal at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson Ireland, on how thinking strategically about your non-executive directorships today can be the launch pad for future board success.

My first bit of advice to executives considering a non-executive career is, don’t accept a non-executive position just because it’s being offered. It might not be the lucky break you’re after.

Instead, think ahead. Position yourself to get the board seat that will take your non-executive career in the direction you want it to go.

Take the time to think about the kind of portfolio you’d like and work towards it.

Whether you pursue a non-executive director role alongside your current position or are planning to take up one or more board seats after retirement, take time to think about each appointment you pursue in the wider context of the portfolio you’d like to have in the long-term. 

Indeed, apply the same strategic principles you use commercially to the pursuit of a portfolio. Your business is thoughtfully, intentionally and strategically managed. Why would your portfolio be any different?

(By the way, if you’re already managing a portfolio, it’s not too late to think about doing so more strategically in the future. You do not have to renew a term just because you’ve been asked. Look around, see what other opportunities are out there and make an informed choice.)

What do you want and why?

It always pays to understand your own motivation:

  • Why are you interested in a board position?
  • Do you want to put the knowledge and experience you’ve gained to use with an organisation in growth mode?
  • Do you envision becoming a ‘professional NED’ with seats on different boards on an on-going basis?
  • Do you want to ‘keep your hand in’ once you’ve retired from your executive career?

These reasons will determine the kind of roles that are of interest to you, as well as influence the kind of boards who will be interested in you.

Time to do your homework

Once you’ve identified your motivation and goals, be proactive.

Landing a board seat somewhere you can be successful and add value means, for example, identifying the kind of companies that you’re interested in working with and doing your homework.

For example, a cursory glance at an annual report will give an indication of board member tenure and the potential timeframe in which there a rotation may be coming up.

Follow companies that are of interest to keep track of what’s happening in their market, their potential opportunities/challenges ahead, and think about how your skills and capabilities would complement the existing board.

Now is the time

At Odgers Berndtson executive search, we are seeing a move towards shorter appointment terms due to the impact of stricter governance codes, greater investor scrutiny, compliance requirements and the need to ensure there is ‘fresh air’ in the boardroom.  It is opening up opportunities for new talent within the boardroom.

For candidates, the time is certainly right to be strategic and proactive in presenting yourself as a potential board member and to land the board seat that takes your career to the next level.

In the second part of this guide to building a non-executive portfolio for the long-term, we’ll deal with the practical ways to present yourself, understand your strengths and get noticed.

In early 2019, Odgers Berndtson Ireland surveyed over 200 current board members to ask them how boards can work together more cohesively and effectively. Their responses indicate that boards of the future and how they are assembled are changing in fundamental ways.

Read the full report