Webinar Roundup: Becoming a Non-Executive Director with Greg Gladwell

Non-Executive Directors, otherwise known as NEDs, are a vital asset to any organisation. But just how do you become one?

Whether you’re a senior executive wanting to broaden your career development or someone who’s looking to develop your portfolio, knowing what to expect in the transition to becoming a NED can make a world of difference.

We strongly believe that the best way to learn is by talking to those in the know. So, for this exciting and informative session, we asked portfolio NED and advisor and former CEO of Crawford & Co, Greg Gladwell to be our guest speaker. Greg knows the ins and outs of becoming a full-time NED and we were thrilled when he agreed to share his insights and experiences with us.

The many faces of NEDs

Greg started the session by talking about his career and explained how, in his experience, NEDs come in “many different guises”, including advisors, coaches, strategists and even CEOs in some cases. Greg believes that “being an advisor rather than a NED can be beneficial to many”, particularly when it comes to liabilities. However, whether they’re known as a NED, advisor or strategist, the four core responsibilities of strategy, performance, risk and people always remain the same.

Greg then shared some vital building blocks that our event attendees would need to make a smooth transition into the world of non-executive directing. Firstly, he suggested gaining relevant and appropriate points on your CV in terms of skills and experience. When trying to get a foot in the door, many people will take part in what Greg called “freebie roles.” While this can be an effective approach, Greg said that these roles need to “reflect the value that you’re going to bring to an organisation” in order to work in your favour.

Networking beforehand is unsurprisingly another key step to making a successful transition into the NED world. Greg explained that the vast majority of NED work will come from your network and people you’ve worked with historically, so it’s important to nurture these relationships from the get-go. He also shared a word of caution to beginners about spending money on NED job sites, as they aren’t always as genuine as they claim to be.

The challenges of being a NED

Just like every other job out there, NEDs are faced with their fair share of challenges and understanding them now will stand you in good stead in the future. Greg said “the companies I work with have probably only used 20% of my skills and capabilities. It’s their company and you’re there to give advice- they don’t have to ask for it or take it. But this can be a difficult place to be when you’ve previously worked at a company where your word counts.”

He explained that it’s essential to work out the difference between being a know it all and gently guiding people towards solutions and options. However, there will be instances when accepting that people need to learn from their mistakes will be the only option. Adjusting to this new mindset won’t happen overnight and can take time to get to grips with.

Greg warned that if things are not going in the right direction at an organisation, you’ll need to have the confidence to “dig your heels in” and showcase your political skills to take back some of the control. Not being kept on at the end of a term was another thing Greg felt budding NEDs should realise beforehand as its common practice within the field.

Pursuing NED roles

After sharing his own experiences and advice, Greg gave the event’s attendees an opportunity to ask him any questions they might have about becoming a NED. Selecting and pursuing roles is a key aspect of being a NED in order to get regular income and unsurprisingly some of the attendees were keen for Greg to shed more light on how to do this effectively.

When answering this question, Greg said “I would make sure it’s an industry or company that you’re excited about and the feel of the people should also be good. You definitely want something that you’re interested in. I personally would only go for roles where I know something about the sector or the businesses they’re targeting so I can bring some expertise with me.” 

One attendee shared his concerns with the group about looking for NED opportunities without having been an executive director previously. Greg explained that many companies, particularly smaller ones, tend to focus more on what a NED can bring as an individual, such as their skills and experiences as opposed to the roles that they’ve held previously. However, he admitted that this can be different with larger blue-chip companies who want a diverse number of people on their board with specialist skills.

When asked about the pressures of staying current with the latest business developments, Greg shared said it’s all about give and take. While he praised resources like LinkedIn for making business connections and reading articles, he said the best way of staying up to date for him was by regularly meeting with people he’s helped in the past, who have then helped him stay current in return.

The question that resonated with the majority of our attendees was knowing when the right time to leave a full-time role to pursue a NED career was. Alongside weighing up finances, family and work-life balance, Greg also stated that it’s also important to consider losing the security of a full-time team and becoming somewhat isolated when making this decision. This is something many people struggle with during the transition to NED and can result in them returning to full-time work soon after.

There’s no denying that there is a series of moving parts to consider and manoeuvre when making the transition to a full-time NED. But we hope that the fantastic insights shared by Greg and our event attendees during the session will provide some much-needed clarity and give you the confidence to take this exciting leap.

For more information about becoming a Non-Executive Director, you can get in touch with Greg here.

 If you’d like to take part in our next digital roundtable event, contact the Deltra team to register your interest.

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Minesh Jobanputra

18th December

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