Thought Leadership

A selection of thinking and research, spanning our sectors that cover issues, challenges and questions relevant to today’s leaders 

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Going Plural

For thirty years, clients have asked us to find non-executive directors who can add real value. And the demand for part-timers with firepower keeps on growing, driven not@only by corporate governance concerns but also by the need for wide ranging strategic@acumen in both commercial and non-commercial organisations from aero-engines to@government and charities. Today there are unprecedented opportunities for talented top@executives to build a satisfying portfolio of part-time appointments @ until, eventually,@they can give up the day job.Non-executive directorships are not, however, an easy option. Increased pressure and@public scrutiny make the posts demanding and stimulating. But for the adept executive@whose need to run the show has been assuaged, non-executive directorships make a@logical next step in career terms. We are often asked for advice from senior managers@ready to @go plural@. If you@re contemplating non-executive life, here are some tips we@have learned from years in the search business.@Getting readyStart today. If not sooner...Years ago, the opportunities were relatively scarce. Candidates would normally@be in their late 50s or early 60s before they could hope to put together a suitable@portfolio. And then, only if they had the right connections.@But now appointments are made through due process, rather than the old boy network.@Chairs and Nomination Committees are interested in bringing in a multiplicity of@talent to their boards and executive search consultants are increasingly helping them@to do just that. Today, opportunities are open to a wider range of people, some of whom@start assembling their portfolios in their 40s @ perhaps even in their 30s with a charity@trusteeship. Our advice: the sooner you start, the easier it becomes and the better youwill be at it....But don@t abandon executive life too fastTiming is all. Your growing portfolio will enable you to replace the day job. Eventually.@But before you quit, make sure you have fully scratched your executive itch. Are you@really able to walk away, or do you still have something to prove?@Influence is not the same as power. An effective non-executive must learn to balance@their responsibility for proper corporate governance and advice with the understanding@that they are paying someone else to be Chief Executive.There has been considerable research into the problems experienced by senior@executives retiring from their primary role. Executives have become accustomed to@optimising their efficiency and effectiveness in their drive to succeed by calling upon a@significant base of always-on-hand-assets such as company drivers @ to get them to and@from meetings on time; intelligent executive assistants @ who process large amounts of@data, presenting the most urgent to their bosses for action; talented PAs @ who manage@nightmare diaries and somehow get more meetings into the day then would seem@possible. So before you quit your day job, consider the support structure that goes with@it. How would you cope without it? Most pertinently, who would look after your diary?@A portfolio lifestyle requires adept time management @ yet some senior executives@haven@t managed their diaries for 30 years.Some are fortunate enough to be provided with someone to keep their diary as@part of their leaving package. Or even better... early on in the portfolio-building process,@we suggest candidates find a job that becomes their fixed base to enable them to@undertake remote assignments @ their aircraft carrier, if you will. One that gives them@a base, and someone to answer their phones five days a week and keep their diary.@Your portfolio career may last another 15 years or more @ so this could be one of the@most important moves you make.Practise a few craft skillsThe skills of a non-executive director aren@t entirely synonymous with those@of a successful line manager. You may need to practise a few of the critical nxd@competencies before beginning your move to portfolio. For example, as a full-time@executive you are used to getting as much @air time@ as the merits of your arguments@require. As a non-executive you may find your opportunities to ask questions severely@rationed. Practise asking fewer, acute questions that will get to the heart of the issue.@Your favourite headhunter may be able to offer some advice here @ asking pointed@questions is a big part of their job!Can you afford it yet?Some people make a good living out of their portfolio but not all portfolio positions@pay well; and jobs like charity trusteeships don@t pay at all. Most portfolio players pick@up enough to cover their household expenses, get their diary kept @ and do something@worthwhile as well as something they love doing.Prepare to find your diary astonishingly rigidIf you@re hoping for a more flexible lifestyle, you may be in for a shock. It is not at all@unusual to find yourself booked for board meetings two years ahead. Book some holiday@time while you still can.Long weekends may not be easy. Friday is a key day for meetings. And remember that@CEOs and Chairmen do a lot of thinking at weekends @ so your phone will ring all day@and evening on Mondays, when they need their non-executive sounding boards.In any case, you@ll be working all weekend yourself before board meetings @ you won@t@believe how much there is to read, and you won@t have all those bright young assistants@to help you.Building your portfolioDon@t be too easily flatteredDon@t necessarily take the first job that comes along. Especially if it takes up all@your Monday @ that@s likely to be your most sought-after day. You want to be able to take@up the job you really want when it comes along. If you@re asked to join a board, check@out the existing members. Do they strike you as well selected @ or the wrong people,@for the wrong reasons? If the job doesn@t prick up the hairs on the back of your neck,@don@t take it.You@re building a plural life @ incorporate all parts of your lifeIt doesn@t have to be all corporate. Include some jobs that fit with your personal@interests @ or your partner@s. If you plan to go plural at 50, start by becoming a trustee of@a charity or an arts organisation at 40: it@s good learning for you, and your company is@more likely to let you take time off for it (they may think it@s premature to spare you for@a non-executive directorship).Be aware of your liabilitiesCharities won@t pay you @ but they@re appoint search firms like us to find them@trustees who are great as well as good. Many are now £100m businesses: they need@people who can think on that scale. But as in any commercial enterprise, remember that@the responsibilities may also be huge. And remember, although they don@t pay you, you@retain significant personal liabilities.Is it improper to buy shares - or unavoidable?There are two schools of thought:• Some boards argue that non-execs represent shareholders, so should buy shares to@keep their interests aligned• Others argue that corporate governance might be compromised if you have a vested@interest in short-term decisionsMake sure you know which type of company you@re going into @ especially if you don@t@see £100k of its shares as a good personal investment.@If your week exceeds eight days, you@re taking on too much. A portfolio gives you a chance to make a difference to organisations you care about.You can have fun @ it@s allowed @ and it@s less directly stressful than actually running@something. But it isn@t necessarily less of a commitment than executive life.@Our formula for a fulfiling portfolio: three boards (one as Chair and two as a non-exec),@one arts or charity body, and one government committee.The more boards you@re on, the more carefully you@ll have to tread@It@s a small world nowadays. If you have multiple directorships, you@re more exposed@to conflicts. Sooner or later, almost every board hits a crisis. How many could you handle@at once? If you@re a Chairman, are you risking two appearances on one edition of the@evening News?What every good Chair knowsNon-execs are a very cheap way to get experienced advice...Non-executives aren@t just there to see fair play. Any Chair worth his or her salt will@expect them to add value. Before you take the job, make sure you know what you@re@expected to bring to the boardroom table. If you@re coming from the City, do they want@your contacts as well as your experience? If you@re a woman, are you willing to be a role@model for the company@s female executives @ and how will you go about it? If you@re on@an overseas company@s board, are you there to play a full role or just to represent your@country or region? And are you in a position to fly over for emergency meetings at short@notice @ for example, to fire the CEO?...But advisers don@t always make good non-execsIf you@re a professional adviser @ a banker or lawyer, say - a non-executive seat on a@client@s board might seem appealing. But as advisers ourselves, we@d urge caution.@You may know the business well @ but can you be sure that you or your firm will never@have conflicts? Would you be willing to fire your firm and appoint rival advisers?@Will investors see the appointment as a reward @ for easy-going audits, for example?@The company values your good judgement and counsel @ but ask yourself, do your skills@as an adviser include an aptitude for taking tough decisions or drawing a line in the@sand? And are the traits that make you a successful professional so effective in the@boardroom? Your interpretation of the non-executive@s duty to probe and challenge may@somewhat startle the board if you@re an aggressively adversarial lawyer, for example.@She may call it dinner, but it@s an annual appraisalA good Chair will want a one-to-one with you at least once a year. It@s invaluable foryou both, especially if board meetings are rather formal affairs. And if, after five to sevenyears, she suggests it@s time you moved on @ don@t feel miffed. She@s right.

The End Game

You've spent all that money to find the right person; now you need to get them aboard. As veterans of many hundreds of appointments in many fields and in most every part of the world,@we have seen how often attempts to bring an important new person into the organisation go wrong@at exactly the time when the @hirer@ relaxes, because it looks as if the difficult part has been done.In our experience, it is precisely when the decision to make an offer is reached that trouble looms.@Saxton Bampfylde have therefore published their experiences that may@help clients progress from @Choice to Join@ as expeditiously as may be.Keep it MovingThe best tip is the simplest. When you have decided you want someone to join your@organisation, maintain the momentum. The new recruit will be in a positive frame of mind@about your organisation. Keep it that way. Push the necessary steps of hiring through at a@good fast pace. Don@t let disappointment at your apparent lack of enthusiasm dim the@attractiveness of a new job.Keep it PersonalToo often the actual offer to join is expressed in a form that is in itself a turn-off. After a senior candidate has spent a lot of time establishing positive personal relationships with key figures in the new organisation @ often a big part of the attraction @ it is extremely demotivating to receive a highly bureaucratic missive, which is clearly a standard letter. Where a standard appointment is necessary, always try to accompany it with a personal (preferably hand-written) note from the senior person involved, expressing pleasure at the prospect of working with the new colleague. And work on the wording of standard appointment letters to make them as inviting as possible @ preferably using warm language like @We have great pleasure in inviting you to join us and.....@ rather than @This is to offer you the position of.....@Contracts can confuseA simple appointment letter, which covers the necessary ground will often be more than sufficient @ even with very senior appointments. Complex draft contracts invite the candidate@s lawyer to @earn their fee@ by coming up with all sorts of abstruse points. Getting them sorted out can vitiate the enthusiasm of both parties. If however, a contract is required, remember @Keep it personal@.Money can matterIt is not true, in our experience, that people move jobs mainly for money. Autonomy, resources, a faster promotion track, the opportunity to contribute to society; all these are far more compelling than money as reasons to change job. But the fact remains that (with a few obvious exceptions) people expect to earn more, not less, when they change job @ and they feel insulted if they are offered less or an increase which is so small as to be insulting. It may be that your employment package involves a higher total, but with a smaller base; if this is the case, do please spell out the total first. Someone who has been accustomed over years to one method of payment will take a little while to become accustomed to the attractions of a new package, so explain the attractions. And always remember the value of first year guarantees of bonus or partial bonus; this approach can make the changeover towards a high proportion of variable compensation much simpler to adjust to. And, talking of simplicity, we do believe that our normal basis of charging flat fees for our work does help underpin our client@s knowledge that we are working professionally for the best result, not to ramp up a percentage based fee!Pre-empt a counter offerIt is almost axiomatic that the person you want to hire is sufficiently successful that it is not going to be an easy decision for him or her to decide to accept your offer. Analogies with contested takeover bids are highly relevant in this context. While your preferred candidate is considering whether or not to move, the present employer has the chance to make a counter offer which will trump yours. So make your offer as difficult to refuse as possible, @and remember that money is only part of the story. Even modest people like some status or other expression of appreciation, so do look at all the aspects of making your offer as irresistible as is appropriate.Hiring bonuses can be good valueHiring bonuses can be good value. In commercial fields, the @golden hallo@ can make good sense. A lump sum on the table shows the successful candidate how keen you are to have him or her to join you, but it does not add an ongoing burden to your annual payroll costs.Always remember the spouseWe observe that the main earner in a family may be comparatively unconcerned about where the new job is located, but to the spouse this can be the difference between a happy life and misery. Friends, school, universities, entertainments and so on are properly material to the lives of families. You can help by providing information on the area where the job is located and the facilities available. And it helps to show yours is a friendly and welcoming organisation by being generous with invitations for spouses to come and look around @ and with social invitations as well where appropriate. And do remember that the spouse@s career may be a key factor. And that the lead breadwinner is not necessarily the male.

Evolve or Die: A VIEW FROM THE CHAIR ON THE CHANGING FACE OF THE UNIVERSITY COUNCIL

Following the vote on the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill in early 2016, we wanted to share our observations on its potential consequences for both search processes and on the higher education sector more generally.The Bill comes at a significant time for us as a firm as we have been closely considering the changing face of university governance in general. Our thought piece, reflecting on the make-up of university councils and how its structure, organisation and role might be forced to evolve, can be found here,@Chairs thought piece - Evolve or Die.Turning to the@Scottish Bill, (whilst considering that for those in favour, it will improve university decision-making, and for those against, that there exists no major crisis of governance that needs fixing) we are left wary of its impact on the effectiveness of Scottish university governance. Further trepidation stems from the fact that two mainstream political parties firmly opposed the Bill.@Considering the processes set out in the Bill from a search perspective, we wonder whether prospective applicants of an appropriate calibre would be willing to put their heads above the parapet for chair of university court posts. Moreover, if only one candidate is identified for election, will that person be prepared to wait whilst advertising is undertaken with no guarantee of further candidates being identified and accepting a place in the election?More generally, we wonder what its impact on the reputation and credibility of the higher education sector might be. The concept of elected members to an academic board raises issues, namely, that the size and effectiveness of the board that emerges could be reduced given the composition as set out in the legislation.@These are just a selection of our thoughts on this topic as we believe that there is much to be discussed. We are left to hope that the new legislation will not adversely affect the rich heritage and international reputation of the Scottish higher education system in the medium and long term, particularly in light of the funding pressures universities across the UK are likely to face over the foreseeable future; and we will watch to see whether there will be implications for university governance in the other parts of the UK beyond Scotland.Download our research publication:Evolve or Die:@A VIEW FROM THE CHAIR ON THE CHANGING FACE OF THE UNIVERSITY COUNCIL