The role of the non-executive has come into its own in recent years, with opportunities for Non-Executive Directors (NED) and Non-Executive Chairmen (NEC) to play a crucial role in the growth of businesses, both large and small, now greater than ever before.
In many respects there’s never been a better time to take up a non-executive position. Although competition is strong, heightened awareness of the value non-executives can bring to an organisation continues apace. Proven high flyers with the right mix of experience and attributes are particularly well placed and increasingly in demand as businesses gain understanding of the positive impact they can have.
The right person in position can bring invaluable objectivity and strategic vision, helping to steer a board’s decision making and shape an organisation’s future. Being a non-executive can certainly be an extremely rewarding career move.
Individuals hoping to launch a new non-executive career for themselves need to be aware of the responsibility these positions command and also the key attributes which boards will be looking for them to demonstrate.
In Executives Online’s Non-Executive Director and Non-Executive Chairman recruitment practice, we've identified ten key attributes common to excellent NECs and NEDs. They are:
1. Commercial awareness
2. Significant experience and demonstrable career success
3. Independence – but still engaging with and being passionate about the business
4. Readiness to challenge but not cross the executive line
5. Financial astuteness
6. Emotional intelligence
10. The ability to engage
Executives Online conducts a thorough and customised search for each NED or NEC role our clients brief us to recruit. Executives Online has over 2,700 senior business leaders registered on our Global Talent Bank who indicate NED as their primary role, as well as over 13,000 MDs and CEOs and more than 6,000 FDs and CFOs who also make superb candidates for NED roles. In addition to interrogating the Talent Bank, we may also confidentially advertise the NED role and engage in targeted headhunting techniques. Depending on the brief, candidates with varying backgrounds or functional expertise can be approached, perhaps addressing any gaps that presently exist on the board – for instance general management, HR, finance, marketing or sales acumen can be specifically targeted.
What we also see is that the role of the NED is different and distinct from that of the Chairman. The NED has responsibility for providing external perspective and constructively challenging in the formulation of an organisation’s strategy. NEDs have an important role to play in safeguarding the future of the business, ensuring a suitable approach to risk, monitoring performance, and determining remuneration. They might also be involved in the recruitment and succession planning of key roles. NEDs often also provide useful contact with external networks for business development, although this should not be seen as a key deliverable; remember, they’re not there to act as a part-time Sales or Business Development Director!
The Non-Executive Chairman is ultimately responsible for setting the ethos of the company, for ensuring effective governance, for overseeing the performance of the business, the CEO and the board. They’ll also coach the CEO, other board members and perhaps senior management, set the board agenda and participate actively in operations, although having clear and open two-way communications with the CEO and knowing and respecting the day-to-day boundaries are critical. They may also help to initiate transformation or facilitate M&A activity but most certainly they’ll excel at building and retaining relationships with the board as well as communicating and engaging with other external stakeholders.
It’s a broad and demanding remit, which with the right person in situ can yield dramatic results, although equally, appointing the wrong Chairman can significantly destabilise and weaken a business.
Both the NEC and NED provide valuable objectivity and an external perspective on business and market challenges as well as the broader macro-economic climate.