How to improve your chances of securing your first NED position

4th April 2017

By Pascale Gara

If you are an executive thinking about taking on your first non-executive directorship there are a number of key considerations you need to make.

First time NEDs are often surprised by the huge difference in the nature of the role. It can take time to adjust to being a non-executive as opposed to a full member of the executive team.

As an NED you need to bring an impartial, independent view to the boardroom. Your role is to scrutinise performance, constructively challenge, offer strategic input, identify new opportunities, introduce contacts, and highlight issues that executive colleagues have not.

Time management is another vital skill; NEDs can easily find themselves working far more than the two or three days per month they are typically remunerated for.

With a big push on diversity in the boardroom, there is huge demand for experienced all- rounders from a range of backgrounds who can bring industry specific expertise in key areas. Those with a background in risk/compliance and audit are particularly sought after given the increasing focus on corporate governance.

But it can be difficult to secure your first NED position with no previous experience in a non-executive role. It can help to first take on a non-remunerated role in the public sector.

You should arrange coaching/mentoring, ideally from an experienced Chair or NED with a number of non-executive roles under their belt.

Whether you are looking to move from an executive role into a portfolio career of non-executive positions or combine the two, you need to build up a range of marketable skills and develop your networks as it is likely to be a headhunter who is conducting the non-executive director search.

It is important to find the right non-executive role; it needs to be a good fit with your skill set and culture/values. You need to think carefully about the type of company whose board you want to join.

After all, you will be carrying a great deal of responsibility for the company’s financial performance, controls and risk management, as well as executive remuneration and the appointment and removal of executives.

Your own remuneration is another important consideration; it will bear no relation to executive salaries and, many would argue, to the actual responsibility held – and there will be no bonuses or share options.

NEDs looking at holding a number of non-executive directorships can find it difficult to build up portfolios because of potential conflict; for example holding positions on the boards of businesses in the same sector. They also need to take care to not change their directorships too often, or their reputation for doing this could precede them.

Phil Moorhouse, Chairman of Newcastle Building Society for the last four years, has held a number of senior board positions, is also Chair of Molins Plc and sits on the board of North Group. He was named North East Non-Executive of the Year 2015 at the North East Business Executive of the Year Awards.

Phil said: “Perhaps surprisingly after executive careers, Non-Executive Director roles can also be challenging, interesting and enjoyable. NEDs need to remember that the executives live and breathe the business on a daily basis, but NEDs can help keep focus on the bigger picture and support as well as challenge the executive to deliver strategic goals.

“Don’t rush into the first non-executive position that comes along; consider carefully and take some time to get the right one. Sector experience isn’t always necessary or desirable; identify those companies where your experience might fit with wider business issues and where you could add value.

“Personally I have found a sense of humour and enthusiasm very helpful in contributing to the all-important culture of an organisation.”


Pascale Gara is a Consultant in the Chair & NED Practice at HW Global Talent Partner.

Contact her at [email protected] or +44 (0) 781 258 2486 for a confidential discussion.

eCommerce investment the key to getting closer to the consumer

30th March 2017

Stuart Richards, a consultant in the Global Consumer practice at HW Global Talent Partner, answers questions on eCommerce in our latest blog.

What do you think is the single biggest issue right now for the retail and consumer industry?

All our clients are looking at ways to get closer to the consumer. To do this, most are embracing digital transformation, by investing in technology and talent, building capability and leverage data and analytics in order to drive innovation and grow the bottom line. Boards are faced with the choice, whether to trade through an etailer partner (Amazon or Alibaba) or a direct-to-customer approach.

Why are so few firms getting eCommerce right and what can they learn from those who are?

Some businesses have just been too slow to react to emerging technology and the changing consumer demand it is driving, but to be fair it is all still relatively new and constantly changing. Many are still not prepared to invest sufficiently in digital transformation, and risk being left behind by more forward thinking competitors. As the world’s largest eCommerce business with $80bn in annual sales, Amazon can afford to invest heavily and take risks on innovation. Recent additions like the Dash Button and Prime Air are truly ground-breaking and potentially game changing. Another eCommerce success story is Liverpool-based Shop Direct, which has just been named OC&C pureplay etailer of the year for the third time running. This summer it is opening a hub in London’s Victoria to house 250 staff working on data, eCommerce, IT, brand and product to develop new paths in retail technology innovation, including investment in advanced analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Shop Direct was praised by award judges for doing ‘pioneering things’ and entering the digital era ‘in style, going further than almost any business’. It is a great example of a business that recognised the need to move away from its catalogue/DM focused heritage and invest in technology to become a class-leading eCommerce player.

What do you see as the biggest emerging issue for the sector?

Investment. Boards need to look beyond the current 3-5% that their digital channels may currently account for and instead focus on the potential 70% growth they could generate with appropriate investment. Some firms are even retracting from eCommerce strategies, failing to recognise the positive impact on the overall business across the entire channel mix.

What are the key challenges facing global consumer giants in terms of eCommerce?

These will centre on harnessing technology to get closer to the consumer, making the customer journey as straight forward as possible. Recent Amazon innovations such as the Dash Button remove the hassle of mundane tasks like going to buy washing powder when you run out. In a recent blog Keith Higgins, Global EVP eCommerce, Omni-Channel, Smart Data at Unilever, highlighted the mobile phone, voice activation and the use of smart data to enable targeted interactions as being key to the future development of eCommerce.

Is there a dearth of talent in the digital director role, making it a highly competitive market for executive search?

It is definitely a candidate-led market and there are opportunities across the consumer landscape. But it is such a diverse function that requires a complex set of skills (trading, P&L ownership, strategic capability building and execution, marketing and analytics) that finding a well-rounded professional can be a real challenge. It is perhaps not surprising we have former employees of global eCommerce leaders like Amazon and eBay on most shortlists. Recent assignments for global CPG businesses have included global e-commerce director positions in London and New York, a global head of data & analytics working between the UK and US, CMI director positions in France, Belgium and London, a European digital marketing director, and a measurement & analytics director based in Chicago. Because of our track record delivering executive hires for tier one global retailers and CPG businesses, we are able to add genuine insight in a truly consultative way, identifying strategic goals and finding the best talent globally to add value to the bottom line.

Contact Stuart Richards at [email protected] or on +44 (0) 7787 254 600 for a confidential discussion.

Flexibility the key for firms hiring CFOs

7th March 2017

By John Wakeford


Flexibility really is the key for firms based in the regions wanting to attract top finance talent.

Experienced Chief Financial Officers have found themselves in increasing demand over the past decade. The modern finance leader has a broad and complex role spanning strategic insight and operational responsibilities.

Changes to the regulatory environment and a highly challenging economic climate have ensured their prized technical and analytical qualities are an invaluable and irresistible addition to the boardroom.

The CFO market is therefore hugely competitive and salaries are constantly rising – with double digit wage inflation. Talented CFOs often have a number of options for their next move and as a result it can be hard to lure the best to the regions.

It can be, then, extremely frustrating for a headhunter working on an executive search assignment to put forward a strong shortlist of candidates for a CFO position, only to find the client is unrealistic about the offer they are prepared to make.

Every board is looking for diversity today but many executive teams don’t truly understand that, in order to achieve it, something has to give.

If a business wants to attract the right candidate they need to make an attractive offer, which often means demonstrating flexibility in terms of the remuneration package, working arrangements, and being prepared to consider finance executives from other sectors.

If a candidate is based in London, for example, and your business is located in Leeds, Manchester or Birmingham they may not want to relocate their family – often the case when they have school aged children.

It is understandable that a finance executive will be reluctant to move their family north for a position which they may have for three or four years before potentially moving on again.

But if you allow the exec to work from home part of the week, and either commute on other days or arrange local accommodation, you could be removing the one obstacle which would prevent them from joining your board.

It may be some years away but with HS2, journey times from London to Birmingham will be down to under 50 minutes and London to Manchester under 70 minutes. It should be much easier to attract South-East based execs commuting to work for firms based in the regions.

Until then, boards in the regions will need to understand the ball is firmly in the court of the talented finance leader they are trying to attract and respond accordingly.


John Wakeford is a founding director of HW Global Talent Partner. Contact him at [email protected] or +44 (0) 203 691 1917 for a confidential discussion.