Founder member of CoreLegal Ray Fox takes a look at a subject that might seem a simple question, but actually, for many people it’s quite hard to answer.
Different individuals have different motivations and we shouldn’t think that we’re all the same – far from it. Let me give you some background as to how I got involved with NEDs and you’ll see what I mean. From 1987 until 1994 I was the Company Secretary and Legal Director of American giant, Dun + Bradstreet, a US $3B T/O company.
Having got fed up with the politics and back stabbing of big corporate business, I decided I’d had enough and was going to set up my own consulting business. I didn’t have a real clear idea of what I wanted to do but offering myself as an NED was one of the key parts of the plan. I placed a series of adverts in the local and national press – it was nice and simple – “Former Company Secretary and Legal Director of Dun + Bradstreet offers himself as consultant or NED.” All I had to do was wait and offers would come pouring in. So I waited, and waited and waited, and, then nothing!! Not one enquiry. Zilch!!
It then occurred to me that becoming an NED was a lot more complicated than I had expected. I started researching the “market place” to find out what companies were doing to find their NEDs. I found out that companies who were looking for NEDs tended to find them in one of two ways.
Firstly, there was what is euphemistically called the “old boys’ network”. Someone would know someone who would know someone else and the phone would ring out of the blue and you’d be told that your name had been given to them and that you were the ideal person for a particular opportunity. Sounds great – and it is – if you’re the sort of person for whom the phone rings on a regular basis. But what if it’s not? People meet other people in all sorts of weird and wonderful environments and occasions – the Rotary, the Lodge, the Breakfast Club, Professional Institutes & Associations, the Golf Club, the Church, Work colleagues, etc and you can’t wander around with a sign around your neck saying “I’m available and looking for an NED appointment”.
The second approach that companies looking for NEDs would take would be to talk to a head-hunter or recruitment consultancy. Now this might be a bit simplistic, but in most cases, all the recruitment consultancy really does is put an advert in the FT, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times, etc and wait for the responses to come in. The problem with this is that it’s more than a little reactive and you have to buy all the newspapers, register with dozens and dozens of head-hunters and recruitment organisations and then wait for your skills sets to match those of the advertiser. It’s really hit and miss.
As a professional, you will have a unique range of skills and talents that are probably of tremendous value to an organisation. You might want to be an NED because of the income that it generates. You could be approaching retirement and looking for a second string income. Many NEDs are looking for opportunities where they can invest some funds and take an equity stake which could realise a huge windfall if the company is subsequently floated or sold. There are also an increasing number of people with “grey hairs and wisdom” who have tremendous knowledge and contacts but are bored and looking for something to do in their spare time.
Obviously, what you can bring to a company has to match the direction and needs that the organisation is also looking for. Sometimes, they are looking for the non-specific “grey hairs and wisdom” type of NED who has been round the park and can cut through the politics of an organisation. On the other hand, there are many companies that are looking for an NED that can get them from A to B because they have a specific objective in mind. Over the years, we have had some very bizarre requests. One company was looking for a Russian speaker who was an expert in the international phosphorous market. Another was looking for an economist who had worked in the Syrian agricultural industry. Another wanted an NED who had previously been a Director of a Premiership football club. Another wanted an NED that had experience of retailing high street Italian furnishings. Although you might say, “I couldn’t do any of those”, it’s equally possible that you have a unique range of skills and that there’s an organisation out there looking for exactly the range of skills you possess.
Apart from the two categories mentioned above, there are numerous “Quango” type opportunities. These range from NHS Trusts, Universities, Local authorities, charities and Trade Unions looking for Trustees, various non-governmental public bodies and enterprise bodies, etc.
Regardless of what you are looking for, the simple truth is a bit like the Lottery – you have to in it, to win it. There are very, very few organisations who proactively market themselves as a body to help people like you become NEDs. If you’re serious about becoming an NED, there’s probably only one organisation that can help you – The NED Exchange. They can be contacted via www.NEDexchange.co.uk or via email at NEDexchange@netscape.net.
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