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The Non Executive Directorship Q&A

  • 26/02/2015
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The Non Executive Directorship Q&A
At the last Ladies Executive Club, members quizzed Deborah Cooper, director of executive search firm Warren Partners, on how to secure and succeed at an NED role.

Q: Are extra qualifications worth having to go for a NED?

Deborah Cooper (DC): We’ve had mixed feedback. It’s probably a bit like the similar  question people ask about MBAs: does it make a difference to a marketing role? 

I think the day job still matters as people will still make a judgement based on what you’re doing. You won’t be ruled out by not having a qualification. But, like doing your homework about the organisation, if you’ve shown you’re committed to being a professional, it can benefit you. 

Q: Do boards really value non-execs on the board or view them differently?

DC: If the chairman is not strong and effective, you can get boardroom tension between the execs and non-execs. The role of the NED is to challenge but there’s ‘challenge’ and there’s ‘challenge’. A good NED will leave the executive team intact when they leave the room.

A board with a founding CEO and chairman don’t necessarily like independent NEDs coming in because they’re scrutinising them. Most of our generation are used to feedback but if you’ve got people in their 50s and 60s, they may not have come through a route where they’re particularly self-aware, or they feel exposed and they don’t want feedback.

Q: Are you noticing change in terms of maximum ages and the time that people are prepared to serve? 

In financial services, the guidance is around three terms, which is nine years. However, the average for a NED in the building societies sector is 6.4 years, which is two terms. 

If you go way back people might serve for 20 or 30 years on building society boards but that rarely happens now. 

The other thing I would say in terms of trends, is think of a portfolio. We are starting to see that people may have one or two NED roles and might be involved in another business interest that keeps them up to date. So the big questions are: are you current and are you relevant?


Q: Do women invest in themselves enough? Is it necessary?

It’s necessary but I think it comes down to just how general the personal development is. Coaching gurus talk about holding yourself accountable to achieve goals – they’ll even go as far as daily, weekly, or monthly.

Having a mentor or a coach can help. If you say to somebody “this is what I am going to do”, then you feel much more obliged to deliver it.

Q: Do you think existing female NEDs are doing enough to help the next generation step up? Are we good at helping each other as women?

I think we could do more. There’s no doubt that the more role models there are, the better. Even if they don’t help, seeing women in different positions give the next generation something to look up to.

For example, Ernst and Young are very good at promoting women. One of the simple differences there has been creating networking groups, particularly for women who have had children.

Q: How can women fit in a new role with family life?

I think there’s a real challenge for women in this area. Women need to be able to talk about the real human elements of trying to balance life and a family and a job and all that goes with it.

My sense is that whilst business is still male dominated, they’re more careful about what they say, but there’s still a massive amount of covert sexism and discrimination. People just watch their language more.

Q: What’s your view on boardroom quotas?

I think when the idea of quotas and targets first came out, there was quite a backlash to say it was patronising to women and it should be about ability or experiences.

But there’s no doubt that if you’ve got a measure to work against in anything in life, then it makes you reflect on what you’re doing.

Q: Are financial services people typecast to go on financial services boards, or are financial services skills very much also wanted on other types of boards?

If you’ve worked in financial services it’s a good idea to describe yourself as ‘working within a regulatory environment’ on your CV. People who are used to complexity and regulation are very marketable. Also typically financial services organisations are ahead of the curve from a best practice and leadership point of view.

Q: What are the pay structures on NED roles?

Deborah Cooper: The FTSE 100 pays significantly more – chairmen will be paid £100,000 to £200,000 plus. But if you go to a university or an NHS trust, it’s going to be from £10,000 up.

NEDs will typically be paid more per committee they attend. The real debate at the moment in financial services is with the regulator giving more liability to certain roles so that’s another factor to consider.


Melanie Bien, director, Bien Media
Deborah Cooper, director, financial services and board practice, Warren Partners (speaker)
Esther Djikstra, head of intermediary protection propositions, Scottish Widows
Fionnuala Earley, director of residential research, Hamptons International
Gemma Harle, managing director, Tenet Lime
Maria Harris, head of intermediary sales, Atom Bank
Victoria Hartley, group editor, Your Mortgage and Mortgage Solutions
Paula John, editor-in-chief, AE3 Media
Diane Kennedy, corporate relationship manager, Coventry and Godiva Mortgages
Fiona Kitchin, marketing director, Aldermore
Hilary McVitty, head of external affairs, BSA
Esther Morley, managing director, Kensington
Michelle Monck, general manager marketing, Ipswich BS
Louisa Sedgwick, head of corporate accounts, Leeds Building Society
Toni Smith, sales operations director, First Complete
Debbie Staveley, managing director, BClear Communications
Jackie Uhi, managing director mortgage distribution, home and intermediaries, Barclays

With thanks to the Building Society’s Association for hosting the event.

For more information on Non Executive Director roles, contact:

Deborah Cooper
Phone: 07899 986 232

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