Skip to main content
Become a member
  • Register
  • Login

Register Login

Paul Bennett

The case study below provides an in-depth view on the journey to the Chartered Director qualification and how the IoD programme has supported Paul Bennett in his professional development.

Talita Ferreira

A Chartered Director of the Year award winner in 2016, Paul is a founder and executive chairman at BSSEC, a commercial energy efficiency consultancy operating in the business to business (B2B) arena.

Your current role

I founded BSSEC in 2005. Since then, I have led the organisation as MD and more recently as Executive Chairman. I was awarded New Chartered Director of the Year in 2016. BSSEC is a commercial energy efficiency consultancy operating in the business to business (B2B) arena. We currently turnover £750k and employ 10 staff, and with four members of the board. We trade across the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe, mainly working for major listed companies helping them create smart buildings that improve business efficiency whilst reduce their energy costs. We also have a Canadian sister company.

Your background and experience

I began my career as an apprentice electrician and, because I enjoyed my job and had a hunger for knowledge, I was fast-tracked through college and later university to become a chartered engineer (IET and CIBSE) with N G Bailey & Co Ltd an M&E contractor. I project managed many design and build contracts, including hospitals, universities, offices and retail parks. I really wanted a deeper understanding of buildings and their systems, so I went to work for the Capita Property Consultancy, managing an engineering team designing low energy buildings in the higher education sector and managing energy reduction programmes in schools and local authority buildings. I later took a position in an SME as a director designate and at that point became interested in establishing my own business in low energy buildings and their operation. Hence, BSSEC was born.

In terms of professional development, I became accredited by the Carbon Trust and CIBSE as a low carbon consultant and then became an auditor for energy, waste and water. My leadership skills developed on the job, through observation and the learnings of success and failures of others – namely senior managers and directors.

Why did you undertake the CDir programme?

I found the entrepreneurial journey very fulfilling, and I really enjoyed the process of learning how to create a company, build up a client base and grow a team. The business quickly grew to employ a team of 10 employees.

As a Chartered Engineer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that you’re already at the top of your profession, and while it’s true that finance, technology and management were second nature to me, I felt that I could improve my leadership skills – a critical factor for success for anyone operating in the energy sector. It’s an area which is highly volatile, subject to politics, the oil price and knee-jerk reactions. It’s therefore vital to be alert and continually ask ‘where are the opportunities?’, ‘what should we do differently?’

We had taken on a sales and marketing manager, who unfortunately wasn’t able to help us. It was a costly mistake but I learnt that we needed to start with a plan and a strategy, rather than simply copying everyone else. I needed new thinking and new experiences. I looked at doing an MBA but it was too academic for what I wanted. Chartered Director was personally recommended to me and it suited me perfectly, offering the right combination of practical training in boardroom skills allied with working on scenarios that directors can find themselves in, all too often.

How has the CDir programme supported your journey?

The course more than met my expectations. It confirmed and bettered my knowledge in finance and leadership, and really opened my eyes around governance and strategy.

If I was to pick out one thing, I would say understanding where and how to create value for customers was the most valuable thing I was taught. I also learnt that the board must be a place of challenge and cohesion in order for it to become a high performing board.

Following the course I ran a strategic review of the business and from that, I created a new governance structure including appointing a new MD and establishing the board of directors with non-executive directors in finance and marketing. We have developed a strategic plan for the next three years which I’m pleased to say, we’re on track to deliver. The plan includes unlocking further value from the business through value chains and our supply chains – we’re currently working with a software company and looking to do something similar with an architect and a contractor.

I’ve also implemented better risk and opportunity management processes and stakeholder management practices.

I met very many truly inspirational people on the IoD training and learnt a huge amount from others as well as the lecturers. My proudest moment was when one of my course colleagues invited me to lead a strategic review of their organisation which I have now completed and which, I’m pleased to say, was well received.

The final assessment also required me to reflect on my time as a director, and this reflection brought home to me that it is in our own, and others’ failings that we truly learn – at which point we are given the opportunity to improve, becoming better and stronger.

What do you believe are the most important attributes for a director?

Good core skills in an aspect of the business or related product or service; Honesty – with yourself and with others; Knowing your limitations and your strengths; Good judgement in terms of creating business value; Being a people person.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

It was probably the decision to set up business. I remember that time well and with a certain fondness as it was a great combination of excitement, energy, passion, worry and belief. I am glad that I have taken the step and I hope that it has made me a better person and that it makes me also treat people better.

What are the 3 most important pieces of advice that you would give to a new director?

1. Practice before you act – the Chartered Director Certificate and Diploma take you through typical scenarios that directors face which is invaluable experience. If only I had practiced these skills in this type of a safe environment before I acted them out in real life, I could have done a better job in many aspects of my business performance.

2. Get a perspective – while becoming a director seemingly makes a person “very important” we must not allow ourselves to believe this hype. Always remember, with the job comes a duty to the economy, society and most importantly our customers and employees. It is a difficult but rewarding balance when we get it right.

3. Hold on tight – the ride can be fast, rough and exciting. It is definitely not for the weak-hearted.

How can directors and CDirs contribute to the economy, better boards and society?

If we do our job as directors properly we can be a great and positive force in society. We generate tax revenue for the country and public services, we create jobs, we employ, we train, we innovate and we set standards. But there are too many reported business dysfunctions and failures at present and the public still perceives executives as greedy. I see a great opportunity for the next generation of board directors to right these wrongs. However, it is a tough environment to operate in and therefore standards and training become very important. It is my opinion that Chartered Director training is an excellent way to start the revolution. Personally, I have realised what a privilege it is to assist other boards and I hope to repeat my work with other boards in providing support like strategic reviews and perhaps offer my services as a non-executive director. My final word is perhaps not surprising - I wholeheartedly recommend the Chartered Director process as in my case it has been very beneficial.