Written in his own words, David Frost, CBE, shares his personal journey to becoming, and being, a non-executive director. He sheds light on the challenges of balancing a portfolio career as well as his tips for a NED / Chairman role, in which he has much experience.
The first point I would make is that I have never actually applied for a role as a non-executive director – I have simply approached and made a decision on the basis of the “fit” with my experience.
For 10 years I was Director-General of the British Chambers of Commerce where it was my role to represent the interests of 100,000 British businesses within Westminster and Whitehall. That gave me a unique insight into the interface between the worlds of the public and private sectors. This was further enhanced when I was asked by the Government to carry out a Review for them on how they could reduce long term sickness absence within the workplace. I developed special interests in areas of public policy in relation to business, particularly in the field of Education.
So on this basis any work I agree to do has to be in the space of Government relations, Enterprise, Education and Employability. I was very clear on this when I set out on the road of non-executive work.
The other key issue is that you have to have empathy with the aims of the organisation and those that are leading it. I have more than once walked away from involvement after interviewing the management and found that I had little in shared values.
Balancing different roles has its challenges and the primary one is managing your diary, particularly when you move from a position of full-time support to often being on your own. The balance of priorities often changes. So at the present time I Chair a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) which is at a stage where it is involved in a rapidly growing range of activities. This may mean that you perhaps feel that you are not giving enough attention or support to Chief Executives in other organisations.
Another challenge is that I retired from full time work to give me greater control over my own life. If I am honest, I am not sure I have achieved this as I have always found it difficult to say no to a challenge.
Another important issue for someone who was a very hands on Manager is to understand that you are not the CEO but are there to give guidance and support, not easy when you would perhaps do things in a very different way. This is particularly relevant to the charitable sector.
So what would I share?
Firstly, find a role that fits with your experience. A role where you really can bring something to the organisation.
Secondly, play an active role and really get involved. That does not mean trying to second guess the MD, but bring your wealth of experience to bear on everyday problems.
Finally, enjoy it. As I said, I need to take more control of my own life but non-executive roles bring so much variety to your life and you can transfer these to other roles.
So readers, what sector or role could you add value to as a Non-Executive Director? How can your skillset be put to good use on a board?