Why be an NED and what does it take?


Breakfast event

Why be an NED and what does it take?


The Norman Broadbent Group was delighted to welcome more than 50 clients and guests to an informative and enlightening briefing for those wanting to develop a non-executive career.  On our panel were three diverse and highly experienced NEDs.

Alan McWalter has sat on 22 boards and held seven chairmanships in a plural NED career spanning 17 years.  A marketeer with a background in manufacturing and retail, he previously held executive roles with Unilever and Kingfisher and was Group Marketing Director of Marks & Spencer.

Lynn Fordham is the Managing Partner of Larchpoint Capital (formerly SVG Capital Plc) and has 15 years’ experience of NED roles.  A chartered accountant, her specialist sectors include oil and gas, healthcare, soft commodities and airports.

Octavia Morley chairs the board of Spicers-Office Team Group Ltd.  She serves as SID at Card Factory Plc and is an NED of Crest Nicholson Holdings Plc and Ascensos Ltd.  A former CEO (and Chair) at LighterLife UK Ltd, MD at Crew Clothing Co and CEO at OKA Direct Limited, she has also served as an NED of John Menzies.

Alan, Lynn, and Octavia spoke candidly about how they secured their first role. They revealed the pros and cons of their experiences across plc, private equity and ownership structures.  Finally, they offered practical and timely tips for those wishing to embark on the NED journey.

Here’s a digest of their key insights:

  • Being an NED is challenging, stimulating and can be immeasurably rewarding, but it requires a separate skill set. Where the executive role is about direction and control, the NED role is about strategy and influence.  Think carefully about what this step change might mean for you.
  • Be crystal clear about what you can bring to the party. Your CV may detail extensive corporate experience but its key messages need to articulate what is different and relevant about you. And you need to be able to relay those messages concisely in an interview setting.
  • Chemistry matters. The ability to work with people, watch, listen and tune into dynamics cannot be underestimated. Often as an NED, it is not about what you say, but the way that you say it that provides the greatest value.
  • If you are going to take the plunge – get started. It is much easier to get your first NED role from an executive position.  But be prepared for rejection – competition is high and the failure rate at the outset is 80 per cent.
  • Network, network, network. The more people you talk to, the more potential opportunities you will create.
  • Do your due diligence. This is much easier with plc boards than with private equity and private companies, but time spent talking to analysts, bankers, lawyers and headhunters is rarely wasted.
  • Trust your gut instinct. Be sure that the chairman and CEO are people you can work with.
  • Don’t underestimate the workload. The NED role extends beyond the boardroom and there is frequently preparation to be done, calls to be made and other commitments which can escalate massively during transactions or crises.
  • Take the long view. Being an NED is a whole new learning curve and you will gradually work out your strengths and weaknesses.  Done well, an NED career allows you to pursue your interests, embrace fresh challenges and enjoy the immense satisfaction of making a difference.

The Norman Broadbent Group provides board advice, executive and non-executive search, interim management, senior level recruitment and bespoke research.  For further information, please contact Managing Partner Tim Hammett on +44 (0) 20 7484 0084 or via tim.hammett@normanbroadbent.com