Berwick Partners’ Manufacturing and Engineering practice was delighted to host our latest Non-executive directors’ event last week. A broad range of experienced NEDs enjoyed a convivial evening whilst debating the rationale for embarking on a non-executive career. The evening centred on informally discussing the desire for leaders to impart the experience gained in an executive career, weighed against the realities, rewards and challenges of the NED role today. The question we posed ‘Is virtue its own reward?’ asked whether the desire to give something back outweighed the rewards that are on offer for the risk.
The majority of attendees did not feel that there had been a marked increase in risk, although there was broad agreement that the traditional NED role of risk assessor had broadened. There was a general view that the time required to do the role successfully had increased, but this needs to be accepted in order to ensure success.
There was consensus that a non-executive career should only be embarked upon if you have the skills and passion to do so; the first priority being to demonstrate you can add value to the business in an advisory role. You must fulfil the role to the best of your ability, and in return it is reasonable to expect appropriate remuneration. There were differences of opinion as to how high up the list of requirements remuneration was, but agreement that if you add value you should be paid appropriately for your time.
The conversation then ventured into other areas, such as the opportunities and challenges that come with sitting on the board of a PE backed or privately held business, versus PLC responsibilities; and how ownership structures can create different drivers for organisations. Whatever the ownership structure, the need for long term thinking was a prevalent theme.
Further specialist advisory positions were also debated, such as worker representation or how rapid technological shifts can be understood and used advantageously. Gaps in expertise might require specialist support at Board level.
Diversity of Boards was much debated. Increased diversity in all its forms was seen as not only the right thing to do, but absolutely critical to the future health and success of any venture. Diversity ensures better scrutiny and smarter decision making.
Non-executives bring independence, wide experience, specialist knowledge and personal qualities to organisations and have a vital role to play. When it’s tough they provide wise council, and when the sun is shining they still need to be bold and ensure the business is doing the right things for its long term success. It was a pleasure to spend the evening in the company of so many excellent practitioners.