So you want to be a non-executive director?
Thursday, 26 April 2018
Directorship is becoming a professional career path. Make sure you are positioned correctly to get the plum positions.
By Parmi Natesan and Dr Prieur du Plessis
The professionalisation of the director’s role is long overdue, given the key role boards have to play and the heavy responsibilities they bear. Organisations are becoming much more discerning about who they choose to sit on their boards as well.
What are the steps anybody who wants to build a career as a non-executive director should take? In our experience, they are:
Understand what a director does and confirm your interest. It may sound trite, but it’s worth spending a little time really understanding what a director does. Many people think that because they are good managers, they would be good directors. The two are in fact very different.
Obtain the necessary knowledge, skills and experience. In recognition of the shift towards professionalism, the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA) introduced formal designations, Certified Director and Chartered Director (SA) or CD (SA), to enable individuals to obtain the necessary skills within a recognised competency framework. Like all professional designations, CD (SA) also makes provision for the continuous learning that is necessary to keep skills current.
Prospective non-executive directors must also consider which areas are best suited to their existing skills and experience, and where they would add most value. Do you want to be known as a financial expert? An organisational guru? Somebody who understands sustainability? Or would you like to stake your claim as somebody who knows about a certain industry or market segment?
Getting the experience to land the jobs is always a catch-22 situation. One way to get valuable experience and start building contacts is to offer to serve pro bono on the boards of non-profit organisations or charities.
Craft a director’s CV. As always, the quality of a CV is crucial in getting the all-important interview with the Nominations Committee. The CV of a board-ready director needs to have a certain structure, tone and content. The Internet is full of relevant articles; a good idea would be to get a copy of a successful director’s CV, or ask an executive search company for advice.
Build your personal brand in the governance space. As a professional, you need to build your personal brand ̶ and that means first of all defining what that brand is.
Networking is a highly effective way of building your brand, especially as nominations are often based on personal knowledge. It is therefore worth learning how to network successfully.
IoDSA events are a natural place to meet peers, decision makers and experienced board members. Social media platforms offer a way to establish oneself as a credible voice in governance, business or leadership matters.
Traditional media should also be used, whether online, print or broadcast. Specialist publications are always on the lookout for good-quality copy on relevant topics.
Watch for board vacancies. Newspapers and sometimes social media carry requests for the nomination of non-executive directors, and executive search firms are sometimes involved. It is probably worth monitoring selected media and talking to some of the search firms.
The IoDSA has a dedicated page on its website that offers a CV search facility for those looking for non-executive directors, a place to advertise vacancies and a list of non-executive director vacancies for which members can apply.
Prepare thoroughly for the interview. The face-to-face interview is critical. Aside from personal presentation, you need to demonstrate that you have taken the trouble to research the company and industry. Again, the Internet has many articles covering this topic ̶ go through as many of them as possible to create your own recipe. Again, a mentor would be invaluable as a source of advice and also to simulate a typical interview.
Perform a due diligence on the organisation. Last but by no means least: thoroughly investigate whether the organisation you are considering is right for you. You should first consider the company itself, including its business practices and financial stability. Equally important, is the company one with which you would like to be associated?
The IoDSA recently launched a new programme, “So you want to be a non-executive director?”, which aims to equip prospective non-executive directors with the tools to pitch for, and land, that first position.
Parmi Natesan and Dr Prieur du Plessis are Executive Director: Centre for Corporate Governance and Chairman of the Institute of Directors (IoDSA) respectively.
Better Directors. Better Boards. Better Business