Ron Lynch on moulding the next generation of boardroom professionals
When your CV shows the longest you stayed in any role is six years, and then you double that longevity in a role, it’s probably true to say you enjoyed it. And that’s certainly the case for Ron Lynch, who leaves the IoD East Midlands regional office after spending a happy 12 years at the helm. Obviously, it’s a role he’s enjoyed.
“It’s been great. I’d had quite a few jobs during my career, and I knew I’d moved on regularly, but I was surprised when I looked back and found I’d never stayed anywhere for longer than six years. So, I suppose, if you’d said to me in 2007, that I’d still have been at the IoD in 2019, I wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s been such a brilliant role that it wasn’t until recently I decided it was time to move on.”
And as we’ll find out, he hasn’t moved far! But before that, what’s been the highlight of his time at IoD East Midlands? “It sounds like a cliché, but it’s been meeting people – both those who’ve worked for us in the office and our volunteers, and the wider membership. “We’ve been very lucky in having Sue and Cari with us in the office for a long time, and before that great people like Monique Sylvester and Rebecca Sharpe, and we’ve had a host of really bright, energetic and enthusiastic student placements over the years, with Tommi the most recent. They’ve all been a huge asset to the IoD. “But the thing that always strikes me about our membership is its quality, its sheer breadth. We’ve members from across the business spectrum and they all have something interesting to say about running their companies or organisations. “Whenever we have a big event, I just know that the collective wisdom, experience and knowledge in that room is breath-taking. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, someone in that room will have an answer to it. It’s a reminder of the qualities we have in our directors.”
So how did he first get involved with the IoD? “I joined in the mid-1990s. No-one say anything about me being tight with money – but it was a free perk! “I’d started my career as a trainee accountant, working in the retail sector, and was interested in taxation issues. I looked to join the Inland Revenue but ended up in a slightly different role with the DTI as it was known then. “I had a series of roles with them, managing grant schemes and training programmes before moving on to advising on government policy in the Cambridge office. After that I left the public sector to move back into the private sector and had a number of director-level roles in small businesses, some of which I was part-owner of. One was involved in training, the other an online jewellery business. “So, I’ve had a very varied career – which I suppose made me an ideal fit for the IoD Regional Director role, as you need a broad range of experience when you’re working with our members. “Somewhere in that potted history I took on a director’s position that included IoD membership as a benefit. I thought ‘well, it’s free, I’ll see what I can get out of it’ and started attending events and training courses. I immediately saw the benefit of both. “It wasn’t a huge ask for me to get involved on a branch level. I was already Regional Chairman of the CMI – a voluntary role – so I was used to the way membership organisations worked and the value they bring.” It was after stepping down from the CMI role that he was approached to fill the role in the East Midlands as Regional Director.
Has the role changed much over the years? “Yes, hugely. Having a regional presence has really raised the IoD’s profile. It’s helped us form really strong partnerships across the private and public sectors. Now, the IoD is one of the organisations local authorities, charities and universities turn to when they want to understand the business angle on issues, and the way the IoD can leverage its influence in public policy and decision making is extraordinary.” He cites as an example last year’s Budget:
“Beforehand I was asked to arrange discussions with members on a host of issues from an East Midlands point of view. These were fed back to London and passed on to the Treasury – and we know those views were acted upon. This ability to influence policy is at the heart of the IoD’s offer to members.”
It’s not just influencing the debate that has pleased Ron during his time in office, however: he’s rightly proud of a host of other initiatives that have proved hugely successful. “We’ve established the Director of the Year Awards as the platform on which to celebrate directorial excellence, created the Women as Leaders forums which were at the forefront of the push to balance boardroom genders and which is now a hugely important issue across the country, and built really strong and lasting links with universities and students through our £10 Challenge and mentoring programmes.”
Arguably it is the latter Ron is most proud of, as it is an initiative now taken up across the UK by the IoD, but which has ‘made in the East Midlands’ stamped all over it. “Our links with Nottingham Trent University started with our Chair, Garry Smith – then a Director at NTU. It seemed such an obvious idea, to promote the IoD to the next generation of business leaders and directors taking business courses at NTU. We set up the £10 Challenge and student mentoring schemes to help build a bridge between the IoD, directors and academia.” These links have deepened in recent years, too: “NTU has made the £10 Challenge a module on one of its business degrees.” Looking beyond the IoD, how does he think the landscape looks for business in the next few years? “I hope the years of uncertainty over Brexit are nearing their end – though I’m not guaranteeing that. “The last three years have been incredibly frustrating for our members. I know; I’ve spoken to enough of you about this since 2016! Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever discussed a single issue as often. “From my point of view, what’s been frustrating is the lack of penetration our views have had in Westminster. As I said earlier, we know we can influence policy and the debate in London but on this issue, we’ve faced a major challenge, along with every other representative association. Hopefully, this will end now.” In addition, Ron has high hopes that unblocking the Brexit logjam could mean other priorities can receive the attention they need.
“The country’s infrastructure is in urgent need of investment – and that’s as true for the East Midlands as anywhere. The rail system is crying out for investment, particularly routes from East Midlands up to Yorkshire and over to Birmingham. “Roads and rail need attention; and high-speed broadband has to be available – everywhere! There are too many slow-spots, particularly in rural areas. In 2020, it’s not good enough.”
Ron is also certain that the future will demand a higher standard of competence and ethics on the part of directors – and that’s where the IoD’s Professional Development will come into its own. “When I became a member, the thing I enjoyed most was the IoD’s help with director development – whether courses or events. It’s incumbent on all directors to develop their skills and knowledge base, so that they can be better directors. “We join the IoD as individuals, not as a corporate body, and for many members it’s a case of life is lonely at the top. It’s hard to develop your skills, to improve your performance when you’re embroiled in the day-to-day challenges of running a business. “But you’ve got to overcome the challenge of developing skills. Your priority has to be to become better at what you’re doing.” As Ron points out,
“there’s no qualification needed to become a director. Be over 16, not a bankrupt, and that’s about it. But the responsibilities and duties you take on when you sign up at Companies House are onerous and exacting. There are stiff legal implications that come with being a director – and they are changing all the time and getting tougher. It’s your responsibility to develop the skills to meet the challenges.”
But it’s not just the legal side that places such an emphasis on developing skills. “Why did you set up a business or become a director? To lead and run an excellent business or organisation – that’s what we all want. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had to achieve excellent results from scarce resources; that scenario demands we get the most out of every member of staff - including ourselves. How are you going to achieve that if you don’t improve your skill-set?”
As for the future, the thing Ron is most excited about is the next wave of business leaders and entrepreneurs who are coming through.
“When I meet IoD student members I’m always blown away by their attitude, maturity and vision. They are miles ahead of where I was at a similar age. They have strong ethical positions, they believe equality is a must, not an option, and they want to have an impact on society. It’s our job at the IoD to channel this ability to ensure they get to the top. Trust me, the talent I come across in universities is gob-smacking – there’s no other word for it!”
Initiatives such as the IoD’s Digital Academy was tailor-made for them – and for all members. “This is something the IoD has been developing for some time and it’s now up and running. It’s free to members and there are some brilliant short courses on there you can access at your own time and pace.” As for his own future, Ron is delighted that he will be maintaining his links with the IoD in a new role that feeds back into those strong links with universities. “I’m taking on a national role, helping develop a pipeline from academia to the boardroom. I’ll be actively promoting IoD membership to students and working with universities to support them in providing learning programmes that will deliver director and boardroom skills. “There’s a wealth of talent on its way; it’s our job to make sure it reaches its destination, running UK plc in the years to come.”