How to start building a non-executive portfolio for the long-term - Part 2

26 Jun 2019

How to start building a non-executive portfolio for the long-term - Part 2

Rowan Hillis, Principal at executive search firm Odgers Berndtson Ireland, continues her advice on how a strategic approach to your non-executive directorships can put you in the right board seats in the future.

So far in your executive career, you’ve demonstrated that you can lead teams and deliver results day-to-day. But as a board candidate, you will need to show you can rise above operational matters and take a more strategic and holistic view.

Think about how you can present your executive experience in terms of the expertise you will bring to a board and the strategic contribution and value you will add.

Know your strengths

The mind-shift from executive to non-executive director is not a minor one. To land a board seat, executives must articulate their strengths as a leader and strategic thinker. A good starting point is to put together a Board CV. This is discussed in more detail in our ‘How to Write a Good Board CV’ article.

As well as being able to highlight the specific capabilities and experience you offer in the wider context of the board, you must be future-focused in your outlook.

Being able to constructively challenge the other directors on the board and offer unique insights gleaned from your experience is the starting point. Critical thinking skills, being able to identify the "unknown unknowns", being adaptable and being solution-oriented are all now commonly considered highly valuable director traits.

Indeed, these are just a few of the insights from our recent ‘Building a Board to Face the Future’ survey report.

Increasingly, companies are relying on directors to bring an innate curiosity and an ability to listen into the boardroom and then apply their experience to articulate future business scenarios for the benefit of the organisation.

Raise your profile

Once you’re clear in your mind as to how you want your portfolio to look, the kind of companies you’re interested in and the routes to market they use when adding to their board, think of three things:

  • How can you leverage your existing network?
  • How visible are you to the wider business community?
  • How can you expand your network?

Leveraging your existing network is a great starting point. Do those in your network know that you’re interested in non-executive opportunities? Identify your mentors, sponsors, champions and/or advocates in the market and let them know what you’re planning.

Think about your profile outside your current organisation.

Are you known in the markets where you’d like to develop your non-executive career?

Raising your profile can be done in a number of ways, depending on your own individual style and the kind of board appointments that are of interest to you. The most important thing is to be authentic. For example, some like to attend industry events or speak on panels or at conferences, others look to increase their profile in the media through their business’s achievements or by becoming known for their thought leadership or specific expertise.

There is also the option of increasing your profile and practical governance experience by joining the board of a not-for-profit organisation. The choice is yours.  Make sure you’re known for your knowledge and expertise, and not just for being seen to attend events. 

Understand the process

Boards recruit in different ways. For example, large scale companies may use an executive search firm to assist in the appointment of new non-executive directors.  Executive search firms offer a transparency of process, rigour and robustness within the search process, as well as diversity within the prospective candidate pool. To be on the radar for such appointments, make sure that you are networked into the main executive search firms in your market.

Small to mid-sized companies often add to their boards through their own networks or through the networks of their professional services providers, such as accountants or lawyers. Boards of companies who are backed by private equity firms will benefit from their networks. Are you visible to these networks?

Timing is key

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.

One thing is certain, shorter board terms make strategic management of the search process by both the board candidate and the company even more important.

As board term limits shorten, companies will need to widen their board talent pipelines by looking more closely at candidate pools they may not have considered in the past. 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.

Read the first part of this article.

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