Your journey pre-Chartered Director
Having read philosophy, politics and economics, I needed to equip myself for the reality of the commercial world and so on graduation I took some deep dives into corporate finance, strategy, law, etc. By profession, I am a spice trader, and so reputation and relationships have also been critical to me from the outset. The missing ingredient in my development at that early stage of my career related to decision making amidst ambiguity and uncertainty, which is where the IoD’s Director Development Programme really added value. It was a safe space within which to ponder work related scenarios from several angles and to learn to accept that there may be no single correct answer to any given situation. I practised making judgement calls.
There is a parallel here with being an arbitrator, my only other professional qualification with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Arbitrators digest persuasive but often mutually exclusive arguments and evidence from the parties to a dispute before coming to a decision. Again, it is about making judgement calls. Of course, chairing a successful hearing requires similar skills to chairing a good board meeting. Furthermore, it may not be stretching the analogy too far to characterise boards, like tribunals, as either quick, courteous and wrong or else slow, rude and right.
How the qualifications through Certificate to Chartered have supported your role as director
I had originally enrolled about half a dozen directors and senior managers from my own small business onto the Director Development Programme in the 1990s as an efficient means of achieving a step change in corporate governance. A few years later, the IoD gained Privy Council approval for the Chartered Director qualification and, as an existing diploma holder, I applied, eventually achieving Chartered status in 2000.
A decade later, one of my first tasks as Chair of the University of Northampton was to oversee a root and branch review of our governance to deliver a capability fit for purpose for an ambitious institution in a volatile market. My own role in this exercise was clearly informed by the IoD values I had imbibed through my professional training.
The first significant test of the new governance structure was our decision as a University to migrate to a brand new c.£400m campus in the heart of Northampton, financed primarily by debt, the majority of which was a bond issue cross guaranteed by HM Treasury. Whilst it was not a set of transactions of which I had previous exact experience, the ability to apply the principles of good governance to our decision making processes stood me in good stead, from strategy and risk management to the detail of ultra vires compliance and regulatory approval. The value of a good company secretary (known as the Clerk to the Board at the University) should also never be underestimated.
The most important attributes for a director and the most important business values that you hold
During my tenure at the University, we were fortunate to collect a string of accolades: No. 1 for value added in 2011, No. 1 for employability in 2012, No. 1 for social enterprise in 2013 as well as being accredited by the global Ashoka Foundation as the UK’s first Changemaker Campus. Those were clearly team achievements. It has always been my view that a non-executive Chair can only really be effective through other people and so relationships are critical, both inside and outside the organisation, and the Chair has to be a constant gardener nurturing them.
For those relationships to be built on mutual trust and respect a level of honesty is required in acknowledging one’s own strengths, weaknesses and personal qualities.
The process of qualifying as a Chartered Directors addresses this directly. It seems to come back to human relationships and self-perception, which is why I sometimes think good literature or art might train a chair better than yet another textbook on strategy. But there is no substitute for real experience and quite often the best CPD is learning by doing. To that end, I am most sincerely grateful to so many board colleagues over the years for indulging my relative inexperience, imperfections and inadequacies. Whilst I developed for the better as a result, hopefully they were not left too bruised in the process.
How and where you believe the IoD and its qualifications can contribute to the economy, better boards and society
The IoD is a champion of good corporate governance in the UK and across the globe and its Chartered Director Programme is a demonstrable commitment to this end.
Whilst the qualification was born in the era of Cadbury, Hampel and Turnbull, its relevance has endured and continues to shine as a beacon on the governance landscape.