Recently I spoke with Philip McDowell, who was not only entertaining to talk to but also provided some great insight into the non-executive director world. Philip is currently Non-Executive Director of Civils and Drainage Supplies; Delineo; as well as Executive Chairman of Leemic Copiers and Printers. Prior to this he has held a number of other non-executive director roles.
Non-executives can land their first role in a number of different ways. For example, some are approached specifically because of their knowledge on a certain matter, through their network of board contacts looking for a NED, through a recruitment process or through investing in a company and taking on the role of an investing non-executive director for that company. Philip chose the latter path, having built up a family business which was then floated. This afforded him sufficient capital to invest in a number of small companies and be able to steward his investments.
His motivation also largely stems from the want ‘to do something’ and he notes that being a non-executive director can be rewarding financially, giving you something to get your teeth into and also affords the ego some element of status. The latter he noted in jest as something for the golf clubhouse. Either way, non-executive directors can have different motivations for joining boards and with so many talented people looking to become non-executive directors, one of his key messages is to ‘work your socks off networking’.
On the more serious side, Philip made it clear that good corporate governance for a board is critical. Some things he always ensures to check when joining a board are: health and safety for employees / what is being produced; that the company is solvent; and that there are no cases of illegal practices such as bribery, etc. As a non-executive director you are expected to be aware of what is happening within the business.
Boards are often looking for different skills – financial knowledge, contacts, credibility through having a particular non-executive on board, and other skills such as good strategic thinkers or those able to shape up a failing company. Therefore, many non-executive director hopefuls have something different to offer depending on the board’s particular requirements out of a role.
Regardless of skill-set, a key piece of advice from Philip is that non-executive directors should keep their knowledge for the role up-to-date.