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Top tips on transitioning into a Non-Executive Director role

Learn from Executives that have made the move to taking on Non-Executive Director roles. Benefit from some of their wisdom we took away from one our live online panel events at VOCASO.


Question from Host Zitah: Laura if I may, I'm going to come to you first. So you've made the transition and you just referenced you retired and you took a year and before you got your first non-executive role. One of the big things is when you go from executive to non-executive, the different skills required. What are the key things you wish you'd known before you made that transition what should people on this call might be thinking about now.

Laura, successful NED

"Well I think there's a couple of things, one is how you present to yourself as you're looking at opportunities, whether you're applying for them or interviewing for them. You're not applying for a management role so you need to think differently, not in terms of necessarily what your resume says and what you accomplished as an executive but how you would add value in the boardroom.

Something that is really critically important is how you play with the other board members. We've all been members of management teams, but I have found it's particularly emphasized in the board. Typically, there is one spot open, they have an existing group of directors and they're looking to either fill a gap in knowledge or experience. In many times it's culture and personality so there has to be a real fit with the other board members and the CEO, not just expertise that you bring to the table.

Then I think the other difference is you're not managing, you're not directing. You're advising and you have to sometimes, if you are a very accomplished person, you have to hold yourself back because it's not your job to tell people how to do things. You have to really force yourself to ask a lot of questions, as opposed give directives and you learn from your colleagues on the board, but the expression, listen more than you speak, that's definitely really important as a board member."

Host Zitah: Did you get any specific education Laura? Was there any formalized training that you came across that you thought that's really helpful?

Laura, successful NED

"Well I think it was a combination of on the job experience, so as a senior executive at Granger, I sat in all of Granger's board meetings for about 10 years with the exception of the executive committee, so as an observer and a presenter it was that was very, very helpful. Also I'm fairly active in an organization in the U.S called National Association of Corporate Directors. They have great training, Technical Training as well as just cultural training. So how to behave when you are on a board. I did a fair amount of reading, and I talked to a lot of people that were on boards. I think sharing with your network that you are interested in being on a board is really critically important. Don't be shy about expressing your interest."

Host Zitah: Brilliant thank you. Laura, ... because you talked about your transition mission and there was a year between retirement, which by the way you must have retired so early but, anyway retirement and taking a board role. Actually David in the chat has actually asked a question about taking that first role and making sure that it's right for you. It's a two-way process, what was your process when you were looking for your first board role? Did you have a specific sector you were interested in based on your background, how did you approach it and how did you know they were the right opportunities for you?

Laura, successful NED

"I did a fairly exhaustive search, I targeted Industrials because my last 18 years was with Granger which is an industrial distributor and is quite a large business. I targeted mid-size, small to mid-size so 500 million to 4 billion in size and I communicated or sent letters if you will to the chair of the nominating committees as well as CEOs because board roles don't open that frequently . For as much as discussion there is about increased diversity and Boards, it's still a relatively small number of spots that open every year, at least in in very large companies. So I shared with my network that I was very interested and I ended up being contacted by some of the CEOs that I had communicated with, so it was a little bit of luck to be honest. The first one is very hard to get, particularly because I was not a standing CFO or CEO. I have a financial expert experience and I have some diverse experience but it was a little harder sell and so the company that I joined initially has actually doubled in size since I joined, but was a smaller company in the 400/ 500 million frame.

I also think that my experience, and David alluded to this in the non-for-profit sector, helped. I was board chair of Make-a-Wish, Illinois for several years and that not only increased my network but gave me even more experience as a board leader. Then finding my second one was a bit easier because once I had the experience, I could update my LinkedIn profile, which is pretty critical in terms of how you show yourself in terms of your experience. It's highlighting those talents you bring to the board, not just what you accomplished in your corporate career."

source: VOCASO panel event recording.


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