Berwick Partners Technology Practice breakfast: Transitioning from Exec to NED

Published: 11 July 2014

From flying a 747 to navigating a fighter jet

The Technology sector is experiencing prolific and explosive growth globally. The requirement for Tech firms to obtain the most effective NEDs/advisors on their boards is critical, and enables them to navigate a hugely competitive and innovative landscape.

The desire for Senior Execs and commercial leaders to transition into NEDship is highly appealing across the Tech community, however there is often a disconnect between the companies that want NED’s and the individuals who aspire to take those roles.

With this in mind, last Thursday Berwick Partners were delighted to host a diverse group of Senior Leaders in the IT&T industry to hear two exceptional speakers, Stephen Newton and Joe Edwards, discuss their thoughts and experiences as NED’s/advisors in the SME Tech sector.

Joe and Stephen are on different cycles in their advisory careers, with Joe recently transitioning into becoming ‘plural’ having held a highly successful exec career working for some of the largest vendors and SI’s globally; his final exec role was SVP UK Sales and Marketing at Atos. Stephen joined the NED world approximately ten years ago, having sold the Geneva Group to Convergys for circa $700m. He holds multiple NED roles and has advised on numerous successful exits.

The two speakers gave a rounded view of the advisory world, highlighted the objectives of NEDs and provided a framework for the delegates to build upon in order to secure their first NEDship.

Both speakers took us through a myriad of scenarios that one can encounter when looking to add an NED role to an exec position or indeed become ‘plural.’

A number of themes emerged:

  • Your value and skills: Know what you can bring to the table, whether it’s commercial, financial or operational. Many of the delegates were used to piloting the ‘747’. Clearly that is useful experience, but how does that apply to directing the more nimble SME?
  • Making the break: Network hard across the PE/VC community, personal networks and to some extent engage with head hunters.
  • On your own: NEDs need to be comfortable operating alone as there is no corporate support infrastructure. Some will flourish in this environment, others may find the freedom inhibiting. 
  • Your motivation: why become an NED? It’s your personal decision but don’t expect an easy ride.
  • Adaptability: Tech firms are looking for growth, but are often constrained by cash, skills and time. The exec team will expect your advice to be consistently logical, creative and ultimately add value, however no two scenarios will be the same.
  • Due diligence: Do your research - does the firm have potential to succeed? When starting out there can be a temptation to accept any NED post on offer. If the company looks like a poisoned chalice, then avoid. Failures as well as successes will be remembered.
  • Remuneration: Negotiate a package geared towards the company aspirations, your value add and motivations. This can come in many forms: cash, day rate, shares, opportunity to invest. If you see the opportunity to make a million, is there a need for a salary?

The unifying point being; ‘there are no rules’ but endless possibilities.

Stephen wrapped up with an anecdote that when he was Chair of a business in difficulty, he was called upon to undertake the CEO reigns in the interim. As a plural NED this was feasible, but were he to have concurrent exec and NED roles, the situation would be impossible. Although an extreme example, it was a poignant reminder that in tight situations the expectations of an NED can grow exponentially.

We would like to thank Joe and Stephen for their exceptional content, candour and transparency as this has undoubtedly removed some of the mystique associated with these often mis-understood positions.  

This event was run and managed by James Blackwood and Callum Wallace, who are both consultants in the Technology Practice at Berwick Partners, recruiting commercial leaders across the Tech sector. Odgers Berndtson has a dedicated Board Practice recruiting NED’s, Chairmen, and other Board advisory roles.

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