“You are only as limited in your abilities as your imagination allows you to be” Natalie Sykes CDir, Group Managing Director, James Wilby Holdings

The IoD has played an important role in the career of Natalie Sykes CDir – both by connecting her with fellow directors and developing her as a Chartered Director. She has progressed from influential regional chair to national IoD director before recently becoming group managing director of James Wilby Holdings.

I’ll admit that, initially, I was reluctant to join the IoD. When I first came to London, I was only 26 years old and a director within the luxury hotel sector, based in fashionable Knightsbridge. When I was invited to 116 Pall Mall for lunch in the then ‘Brasserie’ with a fellow of the IoD, I felt very out of place and could not wait to exit the building! Some years later when I was running and redeveloping Hazelwood Castle in Yorkshire, the IoD crossed my path again as I was approached by the then regional director to join the IoD. He highlighted how the IoD was very different locally; comprising of influential members, interesting events, and world class director development – all right on my doorstep. He saw that I was accomplished in my field and challenged me with what might be next for my career. This conversation changed my perception and helped shape the next chapter in my professional development.

By joining the successful IoD North Yorkshire Committee, which operated like a well governed Board, my horizons were immediately broadened as I realised that the skills I had learned in real estate and hospitality were completely transferable. I am now the Managing Director of a transport and logistics company, a board member for the Royal Armouries, an advisory board member to Leeds Beckett University and, very recently, have become a board member of the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership – all whilst developing my own property portfolio in North Yorkshire. The IoD boosted my confidence and aided my continual progress through its entrepreneurial spirit and ongoing support. Its strength is in the richness and diversity of its members and its ability to bring directors together to learn, share and support one another.

After holding a series of IoD non-executive roles across the region and nationally, my passion for the IoD, coupled with my decision to reduce my international consulting and develop my own property portfolio, enabled me to apply and be successful for an executive role within the IoD as Regional Director for Yorkshire and the Humber.  Within a short space of time, I took over the North East region and within a few years, the East Midlands region too, making me the only Regional Director for the institute directing three regions.

Having developed the IoD’s Ambassador model, I have become an avid campaigner for empowering locally through devolved powers; supporting local directors in local businesses within local communities to deliver real-time impact on the ground backed by global brand which carries a Royal Charter to raise professionalism in directors for the benefit of the public.

Armed with new skills, I started to take my abilities towards new sectors and became involved with the National Apprenticeship Service, where I was deputy chair for Yorkshire & the Humber and a judge for their awards too. I joined the Thackray Medical Museum as a board member, chaired Groundwork North Yorkshire, and helped found a Think Tank.  Serendipity even saw that I renamed that ‘Brasserie’ to what today is known as Café Duke and inputted into the remodelling of Café Duke along with the public spaces of 116 Pall Mall.

More recently, I was able to put my learning into practice within the IoD itself, when I was appointed to the IoD’s senior leadership team, the only Chartered Director employed by the Institute and became the national director for England.

Throughout my time with the IoD, I had the wonderful opportunity to be at the heart of this historic organisation, and it gave me a unique insight into what directors need if we are to foster a climate for successful entrepreneurism.

As a true advocate for “better directors build a better world”, I held several IoD professional development masterclasses across the North which became the foundation of what is now known as the Professional Director Development Series; bite sized CPD which are included within your membership.

Inevitably, my commitment to the local economy and developing great Boards has drawn me to the private sector where my skills and experience see me as group managing director at James Wilby Holdings. By ensuring good governance and using the principle of “people, profit and processes” we are transforming this historic business in record time; and it is just the beginning.

By walking into a sector with limited experience which is riddled with challenges and risk, it really does prove that you are only as limited in your abilities as your imagination allows you to be.

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