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First-time NEDs  |  NEDonBoard membership  |  Professional development

Reflections on transitioning to become a NED


“I am a portfolio NED, board advisor and consultant, with a background in fast moving consumer goods as a sales and marketing director.  As a NED, I chair three committees which are Governance, Remuneration and Customer.  My current  non-executive roles encompass housing, diversity and inclusion and not for profit.  My value add as a NED includes social impact, governance, customer voice, sustainability and EDI, through leveraging my commercial skills.”

This is what I now say when I am asked what I do.  I am still in the early stages of my NED career, but I have achieved breakthrough as a NED.  It took time, perseverance and hard work.  It required me to invest time in developing myself and my knowledge as well as to crystallising my value add and unique proposition.  Critical to this was my decision to join NEDonBoard and to complete the NED Accelerator Programme.  The programme built my knowledge and confidence; helping me to curate my offering into a compelling proposition that I could clearly articulate to my network and at interview.  The webinars and networking have also been invaluable.

I took on my first two roles whilst still working full-time.  I became a Non-Executive Director of Speak Out Revolution Ltd, diversity and inclusion changemakers as well as a Board Trustee for Bath Cats and Dogs Home, a branch of the RSPCA.  These confirmed for me that non-exec was more stimulating for me than my exec career had become.  In 2022 I took the decision to fully focus on a portfolio / multi hyphenate career and also to reduce my working hours to achieve more balance.  I have subsequently become a Board Member of Housing Diversity Network who drive diversity and inclusion in the housing sector and Chair of the Tenants Assurance Committee for Homes in Sedgemoor, a social housing association.

What really helped me to achieve this was continuously refining what I offer and focusing on my board experience and skills.  I needed to show non-executive skills and experience and not the operational skills of my executive career.  My role as a trustee for a mid-sized charity really helped me to demonstrate my skills of governance, scrutiny and oversight in a regulatory environment. So I didn’t rely on my talking about transferable skills and proxy experience.  Being willing to chair two committees brought valuable additional experience that has provided me with strong STAR case studies at subsequent interviews.

Another critical success factor was identifying what I really cared about.  Boards and recruiters do not want the serial applicant who applies for anything and everything.  Every organisation from the smallest charity up wants board members who are passionate about the organisation and its mission.  Being able to articulate why this area (e.g. social housing) and why this organisation (xxx housing association) with genuine energy and enthusiasm is so important.  As is really doing the research to understand what they are trying to achieve, the opportunities and challenges they face, to ask the insightful questions.

Of course it is not “job done”.  I am looking to expand my NED commitments and thereby reduce my consultancy work.  I am particularly interested in roles in health, housing, D&I as well as with commercial organisations.  I am now considering Chair roles and looking to commence the NEDonBoard Chairship course. However, I have made great progress in achieving my goals and am really enjoying my career as a NED.  To those considering a similar transition or perhaps disheartened by lack of early success I say don’t lose heart.  It took me time and a lot of investment in my professional development as well as kissing a lot of frogs to reach this point. 

Sarah O’Neill is a graduate of the NED Accelerator® Programme and one of our valued members. Sarah is an experienced non-executive director, board advisor and committee member, with Chair experience. Her non-Executive experience encompasses private and public sector, as well as charity sector as a trustee.