Connecting with experienced non-executive directors is good practice to understanding the reality of becoming and being an effective non-executive director. Peaches Golding OBE is just such, being an experienced non-executive director in regulated and unregulated businesses operating in the media, healthcare, education, tourism and charitable sectors. She became England’s first black High Sheriff (an appointment of HM Queen Elizabeth II) in over 1,000 years in 2010.
Peaches is currently: Non-executive Director of Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust where she Chairs the Charitable Funding Committee and is a member of the Audit & Risk Committee and Finance & Planning Committee; Non-Executive of Moon Consulting Ltd (www.moonconsulting.co.uk); Trustee of the ss Great Britain Trust and Independent Chair of ITV West Country’s Viewer Advisory Panel.
1) How did you first become a non-executive director?
My first board level volunteering opportunities were as a school governor in the secondary school and college attended by my son. As an American ex-patriate, my motivation was purely to better understand the English school and education system.
I successfully applied for the role of Member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the first of many public appointments I have held. This role combined my experience in the US media industry with that of governance, representation and strategy gained in my role of school governor.
I was then invited to join a team seeking to gain the first radio franchise in Bristol. We were successful and we started GWR Radio which grew into an amazing regional broadcasting business. With this appointment my non-executive career took off. Just after HTV West and Wales won the independent television broadcasting franchise, I was invited to join that Board.
I generally tend to work in the sectors of media, health, education and tourism as well as in the charitable or third sector.
2) How have boards evolved in recent years with regards to diversity and what can be done to further board diversity?
I have witnessed a lot of change in board composition over the years. It is still rare to have people of minority ethnicity on major business boards; the incidence of women on such boards was and is always greater. What businesses need are well educated and highly motivated brains – regardless of the diversity of that brain. However, too many board chairmen still miss the point regarding diversity at board level.
As the diversity of senior executives increases, so too will their Boards. I am not in favour of board diversity quotas but have been privileged to work with a number of FTSE 100, other listed and non-listed companies regarding diversity in general and board diversity in particular. At that level, many understand the business benefits from board level diversity. They can understand how it helps broaden boardroom debate and discussion, expand their marketplace, improve their recruitment and retention statistics, appeal to the millennials and generation x, among other strategic opportunities.
Several women have recently told me they feel uncomfortable or unable to flourish in the boardroom environment. This is a fair perspective and we must respect and try to understand this point of view. Other potential non-execs from diverse backgrounds also may be deterred by the process of applying for the role, facing a tough interview and being integrated onto the board. A few boards still think it is acceptable to appoint a friend or colleague to a non-executive role without considering the range of talent and skills that can be found through a thorough recruitment process.
I relish the challenges of a board recruitment process and refuse to become deflated, or take personally, those occasions when I am unsuccessful. Well-functioning boards look for particular skills at specific times and there are occasions when I will not be the best fit. I do, however, continue to assess whether particular non-executive opportunities are suitable for me and working with a business that either imports from or exports to the US marketplace is of great interest to me.
3) How do you appropriately prepare for and assess board responsibility?
The board is responsible for setting the strategic direction, ensuring the strategy is implemented, creating the culture of the organisation, testing the governance arrangements and ensuring the senior management carry out these activities efficiently, effectively and in a timely manner.
For me to be an effective non-executive director, I feel I need to walk the shop floor to check the temperature of what’s going on, understand the drivers of the business (whether or not it regulated) and interrogate the key metrics and governance arrangements relating to the product or service delivered by the business, its employees, its customers and its supply and value chains. I really enjoy participating in the implementation of a good strategy, so I need to know enough to ask intelligent and piercing questions as well as give praise and encouragement where necessary. As a seasoned non-executive I am also happy to share my knowledge and contacts with my non-executive and executive colleagues. However, I am clear about not becoming an executive of the business or losing the ability to retain an independent and enquiring perspective.
Having read Peaches’ interview, what can you do prepare for your board responsibility?