A member of the IoD since 2008, Sean is the executive resources director at Hundred Houses Society in Cambrige and a non-executive director and chair at East Coast Community Health.
The early stages of my career
I started my career by training in practice as a Chartered Accountant. Upon qualifying, I moved into industry to work in the finance department of Colmans of Norwich who were then part of Reckitt and Colman Plc. In 1993 I got my first role in Social Housing as finance manager and have since worked in a number of roles for different housing associations and housing groups. Whilst most of them included a significant finance element, additional management or strategic responsibilities were often added to them. To help increase my knowledge, I successfully completed an MBA in 1997 which provided me a much greater understanding of areas such as marketing, HR and ICT. This enabled me to take on wider responsibilities whilst still retaining overall responsibility for Finance.
My journey to Chartered Director
Despite keeping up to date technically, I did feel the role of senior executives was changing so I studied and successfully completed my Chartered Director qualification in 2009. As well as updating my strategic knowledge, the very clear focus of the studies on the role of a director was very helpful and provided numerous practical insights. It has since enabled me to also take on two non-executive director roles; one with a medium-sized local manufacturing company, the other for a community interest company providing healthcare in local prisons. The distinction between executive and non-executive roles was one that I found much easier due to the studies I had undertaken with the Chartered Director programme.
The most important attributes for a director
Having now worked with many boards I believe that one of the most important attributes for a director is a desire to continuously learn and improve; not just themselves but also the organisations they work for. An inquiring mind and an ability to craft thoughtful questions can help boards develop and lead their organisations. As a qualified coach I believe that coaching skills are also useful for directors to help them not only lead but coach colleagues and the board as a whole to ensure better performance.
How can the IoD contribute to the economy, better boards and society?
I believe that the IoD and its qualifications can contribute by establishing an increased level of professionalism and integrity around board membership which I think fits well with the increased governance expectations we are now seeing.
Looking to the future, what are the areas of governance would you like to see change?
I think that diversity of thinking on boards is essential and something that can add real value. Whilst there is clearly a current focus on getting more women to sit on boards, I personally think that this is too narrow a view of diversity and we should be actively seeking to encourage people from all walks of life to develop and join organisations at senior levels.
To do this we may have to challenge our views about how we work now and how we can make these roles attractive to different people. All organisations seek to serve to their customers in some way and to do that we need to understand a variety of perspectives at a board level.
When I joined Freebridge I made the decision to be up front and open about my sexuality from my interview. It was never awkward or uncomfortable as they are very accepting. When I started, diversity wasn’t really on the agenda, but I have seen many positive changes over time.
Freebridge has developed diversity networks that I have benefited from and I want others to enjoy the same. I wish I had been able to access groups like Stonewall, earlier in my career as I had to work things out for myself. We are also a coaching organisation and I take great value from that. It has in particular opened up opportunities to discuss how I see myself and my sexuality. I hope that I am known and will be remembered as someone who makes things happen, not just for me but staff and tenants alike. As I spent a long time keeping a low profile I am still getting used to the idea that I may be a role model myself!