Becoming a non-executive director can be a fulfilling and worthwhile career move, but sometimes it seems that the ranks are closed to newcomers. Alex Mitchell, Founder of Kit Us Out, Co-Founder of G20 YEA, Chair of IoD 99 and Director of Scottish Canoe Association, sharing his experience on becoming a Non-Executive Director.
If you’re in business and looking for a challenge, I really recommend thinking of applying for a non-executive director (NED) role. As well as opening up a new world to you, it is a great way to learn from other board members, see how a board operates and importantly a great way to bring your own unique expertise and perspective to the board and support the businesses growth and development as a whole.
I recently took up my first NED role, it was a big step for me and one I wasn’t sure would be right. However, after the first board meeting I knew I had made the right decision and it would be a role where I will be able to add value and personally develop, in equal measure.
My own experience
I joined the board of the Scottish Canoe Association (SCA), as a NED, back in November. Apart from a stint at school where I ended up as an instructor, my experience in canoeing has been somewhat minimal and this was my biggest reservation about taking up the post. Through Kit Us Out I have a rough understanding of the sport space, but most of my professional experience has been in the business and entrepreneurship worlds.
I applied for the role for three reasons: Firstly, a mentor of mine said taking up a NED could really help build my skill set in relation to the understanding and role a board plays. Secondly, the role description talked about the boards want to focus on building partnerships within the business community. Thirdly, I spoke to the Chair of the SCA, who was excellent and said the board was really keen to recruit a NED who could bring a different perspective and skill set to the board. As many of us know, finding the right skill set and retaining talent is tough and sometimes you need to be creative, this goes for boards as well.
Why industry experience doesn’t always matter
My background is certainly not in canoeing and sitting on a board with people who have competed in Olympic Games and understand the sport inside out, highlights this! But my job is not to provide direction on the sport side, (thank god!), but to use my skill set to support the board and the association in bringing business and the sport closer together for mutual benefit.
The SCA is forward thinking in this regard, it is keen to get businesses more involved in canoeing, to provide more of a lasting legacy and have more of an impact on the ground. So the kind of projects I can lend my expertise to are things like getting a local business to support their local canoe club, helping open up that sport to a wider audience and potentially more provide funding the enhance the reach of the sport with deprived communities.
A passion to collaborate
I am passionate about the potential for collaboration between sport and business, bringing the two areas closer together where possible and looking at the roles both can play in supporting and enhancing each other. The future plan for my charity, Kit Us Out, is to do far more work in the sport field in the UK and this will only happen through creative collaborations with business and other relevant parties.
From a business perspective, NEDs can help enhance collaboration opportunities, share their insights as well bring new connections into the business. If you are thinking of going global it might be worth seeing if you can get on board a NED that has international experience. If you are keen to bring your business to a more sustainable footing and gain an understanding of non-sustainable business practices (fast fashion being an example), again it would be worth seeking someone who has experience in this space.
One benefit of taking a NED position
For me, and keeping in mind I am only a few months in, it is a very satisfying way to balance your time. You will find yourself surrounded by people with different perspectives to your own, inspiring you in every aspect of your life and challenging you to think differently. This I love.
Your role as a NED
Of course, while one of the reasons for you being there is to add value, another, as mentioned above, crucial role of a non-executive director is to challenge the board. If taking on a non-executive director role appeals to you – and I thoroughly recommend it – do some research into what it actually means and what you will be required to do.
For example, while you’re not an executive director with managerial powers, in the eyes of the law you hold the same responsibilities. Understanding where your role starts and stops is crucial.
To get more of a grasp on this, take a look at the ‘Role of the Non-Executive Director’ course run by the IoD.
- If you want to go ahead with a NED role, it’s worth evaluating the skills of the board and the ones you want to develop. It should be a fair exchange with a reward for you in your own personal development.
- Find out whether everyone on the board is from the same background. If you feel like you might be the odd one out, this bodes well! It means that you can provide balance to an organisation that clearly needs a breath of fresh air.
- Scope out the chair of the board and find out whether they are forward-thinking and open-minded enough to understand they need new and diverse voices.
- Most of all, enjoy the challenge of a brand-new experience – and the satisfaction that you can bring your own unique talents to help an organisation grow
Take your interest further with the IoD Professional Development course
Get all the information and support you need on becoming a non-executive director with the Role of the Non-Executive Director course. It will equip you with practical strategies to build your network, raise your profile to secure an appointment, and add value in the boardroom. On completion of this one day programme you will leave with a profound understanding of the role of a non-executive director, discover the latest interview tips from top industry head-hunters and learn first class strategies to hone your skill set and improve your knowledge. Find out more.