“Everything begins and ends with values” Professor Keith Jackson CDir, NED, CEO and IoD Director of the Year Awards judge

Professor Keith Jackson is a highly experienced exec and non-exec director with expertise in exporting. As a judge for the IoD National Director of the Year Awards, he is particularly interested in how businesses are developing positive company cultures to engage employees, encourage lifelong learning and drive innovation.

I spent the first five years of my career as a design engineer with Jaguar Cars, but discovered it wasn’t as glamourous as it sounded. I moved into medical engineering and have enjoyed a range of leadership roles in product development, operations and sales. Travelling is a bit of a passion and I appreciate different cultures, so I am lucky that my career has allowed me to live in six countries and export to over 70.

I joined the IoD 20 years ago, and have benefited from the formal training it offers as well as the peer-to-peer learning and the incredible networks you can build with other highly motivated business leaders. I am a Chartered Director and believe that strong governance enables boards to perform better and enhance competitive advantage. I was delighted to win Director of the Year in 2016 for my work leading transformational change when I was CEO of JRI Orthopaedics.

Business leaders have to be many things, but they must remain human with great people skills and a deliberate approach to shaping organisational culture. Everything begins and ends with values. We need to show the way by living and breathing these company ethics, using them to guide behaviours and to inform decision making.  We must also acknowledge our boundaries, notice where we feel uncomfortable and make change accordingly.

Company culture isn’t a static thing, it will change and evolve. People come and go and leaders need to be deliberate about positive culture change. Ask yourself, ‘where is it today, where would you like it to be?’ It’s a potent force and should be central to your strategy because employees really engage with it. A sense of purpose is important, ESG is important and so is valuing personal growth opportunities for your employees. Everyone in your organisation should want to learn and be given a learning objective – including your CEO. It helps us all to have meaningful and personal work goals and in the ‘war for talent’, this approach is valued by Gen Z.

As one of the judges for the IoD’s National Director of the Year Awards, I am assessing directors against the IoD competency framework, but also exploring their impact on company culture and innovation. So for example, initiatives like distributed leadership, exemplar employee engagement, creating strong customer focus and succession planning.

Developing cultural fluency is also important if you want to be successful internationally. I see many UK businesses looking to Europe to export, but in my experience the rewards are greater if you go further afield. You do have to learn to ‘read the air’ the further east and south you venture from the UK; understanding what is not being said, as well as what is. The IoD can be invaluable in this area with resources and advice.

Throughout my career I have benefited from mentors. There is no need to restrict ourselves to one mentor – having more is like having your own board of advisors offering different perspectives. Over my twenty years as a board director on more than 20 different boards, I have faced numerous obstacles, but I see them as opportunities to learn. Challenges are inevitable, if you don’t encounter hurdles as a leader, you aren’t pushing hard enough.

Better directors for a better world

The IoD supports directors and business leaders across the UK and beyond to learn, network and build successful, responsible businesses.

Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace

Browse valuable diversity resources from the IoD.
Internet Explorer
Your web browser is out of date and is not supported by the IoD website. It is important to update your browser for increased security and a better web experience.