We’re delighted to share here some real experience from our board observers and the successful matches with their host boards.

Case Study 6

Board Observer:

David GreenVP EMEA & LATAM, CDK Global 

I was looking to gain hands-on experience as a board advisor for a technology start up business, with a mix of investor types on the board (founders, angel, VC/PE etc).

To observe the different roles and interactions played by these different parties, particularly the role of Chairperson.

To better understand the role of a NED and whether it was something I wanted to pursue further

To add value to the business through my commercial and international experience

To get 1-1 feedback and guidance from Liz and Heather

Did you gain what you were looking to achieve from the programme? 

An excellent fit and experience!. When reviewing my objectives as above all were met.

The Chairperson, founders and board were all very supportive and open. This made the experience even more enjoyable.

What surprised you  the most  about the board experience?

After 30 years in operational roles I found the transition to advising rather than leading quite difficult.

Getting the balance right re how to suggest, question etc was harder than I had anticipated.

What has proved the key takeaway for you to demonstrate to your line manager back in your workplace? 

As he sits on the Excomm Board it has made me appreciate more the balancing he has to do re the different elements of the Board.

NED coach for David Green: Liz Shanahan, Non-Executive Director, Chair, Board & NED Coach

Getting your first NED role is often challenging and adjusting from executive to non-executive is also, at times, challenging. Some people get no training or support, others undertake NED courses, but what I really like about Boardroom ready is that it combines a mixture of practical experience as an observer, coaching and access to super training sessions, allowing our NEDs to develop their skills and expertise in a very safe environment.

What is the primary role of the coach? 

My role is to help our observers understand the role of a NED and support them in transitioning from executive to NED. Our observers tend to be very experienced and each one has a unique approach and objective. We are there to help support them to achieve their objectives in the programme. David has tonnes of executive experience and he recognised it was going to be challenging for him to engage as an NED without overstepping the line and drifting into executive support. My role was to help him to prepare for the meetings, advise him how he might deal with different scenarios and help him to minimise any personal or commercial risks, given the unique role of board observer.

How does this happen practically?

Face-to Face and calls, and now, mostly Zoom calls!  We generally have them before critical meetings and often, again, just after to discuss immediate items. Our observers are usually also working full time so it’s a big commitment for them, and jugging diaries can be challenging.

Where and how did this focus help Pamela?

It reinforced David’s desire to remain and executive but complement it with one NED role. At some point he is likely to transition to more NED roles, but this experience gave him the ability to fully assess this before launching on an NED portfolio with no previous experience.

Host Board: Oxford Medical Simulation – Michael Wallace, CEO & Co-Founder

David joined the team and instantly brought considered and objective observations to the attention of the Board. David‘s experience, particularly within the scope of sales development and senior hires, proved to be invaluable. The most important and defining feature of his tenure with us, however, was his ability to ask incisive and pententrating questions across the business’s various functions. This provided the board with an opportunity to pause and reflect and this, in turn, resulted in the creation of excellent direction from the Board across to the management team.

As a result of having David on your board, did the dynamic change, and if so, in what way?

Absolutely. David‘s introduction to the board created a more balanced discussion overall and his objective insights added value to the management team as well as enhancing the strategic output of the Board.

Are you approaching your business differently in any way as a result of an insight from David? 

Very much so. As I mentioned before, David‘s insights and observations provided both the Board and Management Team the opportunity to assess the “why” and “how” of various situations. His impact, drawing from his own experiences, with regards to key functions within the business as well as key hires, has resulted in significant refinements within our operational and thought processes.

Would you do it again? 

Absolutely. David‘s time with us has demonstrated the very real benefits of having an objective and impartial addition to the Board, who bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Case Study 5

Board Observer: Pamela Harding, HR Director, PRS for Music

Quite simply to start my journey to transition over the coming few years from an executive to a NED career, and Boardroom Ready was a perfect way of doing this.

What surprised you  the most  about the board experience? 

Having supported Boards and Remuneration Committees in previous companies I have been fortunate to experience and observe the workings of a NED environment, types of topics and discussions that were addressed. This exposure has given me some confidence as part of the Boardroom Ready programme to use what I have learned to develop a relationship with a small organisation establishing its first board. The Programme also made me realise how much I need to learn about the NED world.

One aspect that has surprised me is that I need to continuously remind myself that as a NED the objective is to provide oversight and advise rather than to do, which is much harder than I realised. Boardroom Ready provides a dedicated NED coach, which I found invaluable and have learnt so much from Bryan, who has been extremely giving with his time, sharing his experiences and providing advice.

What has proved the key takeaway for you to demonstrate to your line manager back in your workplace? 

A key takeaway is being able to add even more value to the boards and remuneration committees I work with in my current executive career, by having a greater awareness and empathy of the role of a NED and the common challenges they face, along with their significant responsibilities, legal and otherwise. It has also enabled me to further develop my commercial, financial and risk management awareness so I can add broader value as a NED outside of my HR and change management experience.

NED coach for Pamela Harding: Bryan Foss, Digital NED, Risk & Audit Chair, FRC advisor and Risk Coalition co-founder

Most decide to set off via the well-known NED ‘education’ programmes, while searching for that hard-won NED role alongside. By comparison Pamela was immediately placed into a pseudo-NED role and needed to ‘hit the ground running’ using her current skills, mentor support and a rapid but focused NED education and development plan.

What is the primary role of the coach? 

My role was to ensure Pamela was sufficiently prepared to be a strong contributor (and learner) in every board meeting, through just-in-time preparation, stretching herself within a reasonable risk framework. I also helped her to make long term NED contacts to follow or travel with.

How does this happen practically?

One-to-one calls were scheduled just prior to each board meeting and sometimes just after, supplemented with personal planning discussions. Inevitably these need to include positively managing the interactions between the new NED role and a demanding executive commitment.

Where and how did this focus help Pamela?

Pamela was already an executive board member working closely with NEDs, but within a year she had proven and felt comfortable in the shoes of an NED herself – and is now transitioning to a permanent NED role alongside her challenging and fast developing senior executive career.

Host Board: European Medical Journal – Spencer Gore, Founder & CEO

We have always had a very small board for an agile and growing organisation.

With Pamela joining us a pseudo-NED we needed to answer questions for ourselves and for her regarding the purpose of future board meetings, including frequency, attendance, agenda and proper preparations.

Are you approaching your business differently in any way as a result of an insight from Pamela? 

We decided that an external influence could best be used to validate and improve our strategy, and Pamela’s contribution to that proved more than valuable.

Would you do it again? 

Having access to an experienced executive with different experiences than our own is definitely something we’d recommend to others. It worked so well that we asked Pamela to stay on the board in a more formalised NED role after the initial period.

No doubt this also benefited her development too, but there was no doubt in our minds that she could always contribute and keep up in an independent role.

Case Study 4

Board Observer: Matt Edwards, Founder, Matt Edwards Consulting

I’d been in the role of CEO (at a creative agency) for a number of years, and I was looking for ways to broaden my experience as I considered the next stage of my career.  The programme seemed like a great way to get boardroom exposure in a business outside my own sector and at a very different stage of maturity.

Did you gain what you were looking to achieve from the programme? 

Absolutely – the experience has been both useful and rewarding.  Useful, because I’ve been able to see first hand how this fascinating industry works (streaming live events through public cloud technology) and have learnt a huge amount from the founders.  Rewarding, because although M2A delivers a very different service to a creative agency, it’s still a client-driven business and so there have been many parallels and situations in which I’ve been able to make suggestions based on my own experience.

Plus, it was great to work with a very experienced chairman.  He chaired the meetings expertly and has given me a good deal of useful advice throughout the programme.

What surprised you  the most  about the board experience? 

After a long spell in charge of a 250 employee business, it was refreshing to work with a start-up and to see the founders building their business from scratch.  I have now set up my own consulting business!

Heather White

Board matchmaker for Matt Edwards:  Heather White, CEO of Boardroom Ready

I met Matt at the end of March 2019 and within a mere month had placed him on a small board – that’s really fast for a successful match within a month!

Matt was very open-minded about the experience he wanted to gain, but naturally wanted to use his experience as a CEO as well as his expertise in marketing and PR.  He wanted to experience a young business that was looking to scale, but also to work with a highly experienced Chair – and we found the ideal match with Leslie Hurst and a board he chairs, M2A Media.

With any match there are several aspects to consider; experience, expertise on both sides and of course the right personality fit.

Working with Matt his keenness to learn as well as share was very important for this match to work. Meeting Leslie I could see straight away that his open approach, and real willingness to want to support a senior executive with the next stage of their career, would ensure this could work well. And it did.

How has this experience helped Matt? 

I was not only the match-maker for Matt, but also his coach. After a period of time, Matt decided to change his career and so we focused on how to make the transition from corporate executive to running his own business. The coaching looked at what’s it like at running your own business (something I have done for the last 20 years), what networks to build and, as important, how to change your brand from working with a highly recognised brand to that of a sole trader.

It has been a real pleasure to watch, and be part of, the change and growth in Matt over the 12 months and he has certainly made a brilliant transition.

Host Board: M2A Media – Leslie Hurst, Chair

An overall commercial perspective able to helicopter and dive into specifics with analogous business experience helping to contextualize his inputs. Probably the most significant was his contribution to our strategy discussion where his clear thinking helped us think through how we prioritized our activities and subsequently how we should go about making the priority strategic items happen.

As a result of having  Matt on your board, did the dynamic change and, if so, in what way? 

Definitely helped create a more balanced discussion in the boardroom partly as a function of creating a large enough set of minds at the table to enable an engaged meeting rather than an internal chat and partly because of the objectivity he brought to the table.

Are you approaching your business differently in any way as a result of an insight from Matt? 

He helped refine the translation of strategy into action and define how resources should best be deployed.

Would you do it again? 

We are converts to the opportunity and are looking forward to welcoming another observer with a new eye being cast on our business.

Case Study 3

Board Observer: Nick Smith-Saville, Restructuring Analyst, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

My key aim was broadening my view of a business. As a function leader looking to further develop my career it was becoming more important for me to understand how various business functions come together to operate as one.

Did you gain what you were looking to achieve from the programme? 
Yes, the programme fully achieved my goals.

What surprised you  the most  about the board experience? 

What pleasantly surprised me was how challenging the coaching sessions were. Heather and Richard both really pushed me to look inside myself and understand my motivations and question everything. On top of this they both had a very clear understanding of how to help me get the most from the process which was incredibly helpful.

What proved to be the most important thing for you to demonstrate to your line manager back in your workplace? 

The most important thing for me was being able to demonstrate that I could place my function within the constraints of the organisation and understand how to trade off competing priorities against available resources to allow the team to make the best decisions for the organisation as a whole.

Richard Stanton

NED coach for Nick Smith-Saville: Richard Stanton, cyber & systems security expert for public and UK Intelligence sector

My role was to support and challenge and to offer up different scenarios to make Nick consider his position and what advice he might offer in various circumstances, while also minimising any personal or commercial risks, given the unique position as a board apprentice.

How does this happen practically? 

During our regular meet ups, both Nick and I would agree what we wanted from the session and then keep the conversation free flow, although anchored to our agreed discussion points. The point being not too rigid in what we covered, but with a clear outcome in mind. We often ran overtime as the conversations usually covered a lot of ground.

Where and how did this focus help Nick? 

Nick was already highly experienced, but we helped to explore his motivations, approach and the parameters of this different role. We also focused on what he, and the board he was placed with, wanted to get from the programme and how best to achieve this.

Host Board: Business Advantage – Chris Turner, CEO & Founder 

As is often the case a fresh pair of eyes looks at situations and asks “Why? Why do it that way?” Their experience will often mean they will look at things differently and have a fresh perspective on issues, and suggest ideas that we perhaps had not thought about, or had considered but initially discarded. It is not until a different way at looking at the issue is suggested that the ideas are re-examined and, instead of being found wanting, they are found to have merit.  Nick also lead a call which in reality was a back-to-basics approach in some areas.  Nick’s experience of research and outsourcing was also helpful.

As a result of having  Nick on your board, did the dynamic change and, if so, in what way? 

Yes – in line with the above – we had someone joining with us who brought a different view, so we discussed some issues in a different way and re-examined what we were doing.  So often a different type of discussion and with another voice.

Are you approaching your business differently in any way as a result of an insight from Nick? 

We are looking at getting back to basics in some areas and considering outsourcing in others.  Nick was also very helpful in considering the future strategic direction of the business and looking at some of the options available to us and because he had direct experience of these options he was really helpful as a ‘sounding board’ on the way forward and appropriateness of services of others to help us.

Would you do it again? 

Yes absolutely – it was a very good experience, helped the management team, the company and we believe was helpful to Nick as well. A ’win-win’ – the basis of all good partnerships.

Case Study 2

Board Observer: Helen Lane, SVP Global Digital & Network Transformation, CHEP

Quite simply, I wanted to learn more about the role of an NED and gain experience of the inner workings of Boards.

What surprised you  the most  about the board experience? 

So much!

I was initially surprised by how difficult it could be to avoid pace-setting or acting in a more ‘hands-on’ way but I gradually began to find the right style and approach to bring the team what they needed – which was fresh perspective, independence and a strategic outlook. My confidence was therefore built in the process as I realised that the core competencies of effective leadership and business management that I had developed over the years could be applied to any business at any stage of maturity, and I could add significant value to more Boards and executive teams than my own.

I also began to feel part of a team and met a great group of fantastic leaders too. I learned so much from the other Board members; their drive to deliver and their passion for staying true to their brand was inspirational, and has made me a better leader myself as a result.

What has proved  the key takeaway for you to demonstrate to your line manager back in your workplace?

The experience has been completely invaluable to me and has given me a breadth of perspective and business acumen that I could only find through an experience such as this. I feel privileged that my company, the team at my host board, Volcano Coffee Works, and the team at Boardroom Ready have provided me with such a unique and career-enhancing opportunity.

Board matchmaker for Helen Lane: Heather White, CEO of Boardroom Ready

Once I had taken a detailed brief from Helen on her goals, aims and ambitions, and the experience she was seeking from the Boardroom Ready programme, I set about looking for just the right board for her. Something that would work for her age, experience and personality.

Volcano Coffee Works is a young, innovative company, who believe in enabling people to grow, from their own staff to those they partner with. Helen has a real interest in innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

With Helen’s expertise in large scale commercial business in supply chain, guiding design and delivery of customer-focused business strategies for major global corporates to drive organisational and cultural transformations, Helen was an ideal match for Volcano.  Their chair and founder, Emma is an entrepreneur with passion for her business, in environmentally sustainable and ethically traded coffee.

How has this experience helped Helen? 

One of the key benefits of the Boardroom Ready programme is that it allows the boardroom apprentice to trial a ‘hands-off’, strategic approach to providing board advice, in a safe environment.  Their confidence is built by offering insights and opinions based on their expertise and experience, and so it was with Helen.  Applying her leadership and management experience to a different environment, industry and company size demonstrated its immense value, and  – in her own words, ‘made me a better leader myself as a result’.

Host Board: Volcano Coffee Works – Emma Loisel, Co-Founder & Chair 

Having a professional of Helen’s calibre has given the Board an outstanding independent view.  This has helped drive clarity and focus.  Helen has a great sense of calm and her experience across other sectors has given us the opportunity to understand that all fast growing businesses face many of the same business challenges.

As a result of having  Helen on your board, did the dynamic change and, if so, in what way? 

Our Board has moved from more of an operational Board to one that looks more long term.  Helen has really helped us look at our business, see the wood for the trees and helped get us focused on more strategic, longer term challenges and opportunities ahead.

Are you approaching your business differently in any way as a result of an insight from Helen? 

We have lifted our heads and got a more long term strategic view.  Helen also quietly challenged us to be more ambitious with the business, whilst ensuring we held ourselves firmly to account for short and long term objectives.

Would you do it again? 

We will absolutely have another Observer on our Board.  The independent view we gained is something often underestimated.  Plus, working with the Boardroom Ready programme enables us to have bring in fresh thinking, with the skill sets we think will be of most value to our business over the next 12 months.

Case Study 1

Board Observer: Zoe Bailey, Chief Strategy Officer, BDO UK LLP

This question is simple to answer – I wanted to understand what it would mean to become a NED.  What would be expected of me, what it would feel like, what opportunities might be available to me and how to get started on my NED career. 

Did you gain what you were looking to achieve from the programme? 

Absolutely.  12 months after completing the programme I have been appointed in my very first NED role.  I am now 6 months into my role and, whilst I appreciate I am still learning, I am thoroughly enjoying being part of the fantastic Nelson Croom board and I am confident that this is the right path for my longer term career.

What surprised you  the most  about the board experience? 

How difficult it can be to ensure your independence and the mind-set that is required to achieve this.  I have a vast number of years’ experience in Operations and there can be a tendency to want to ‘help out’ but as a NED that is not always the best use of your skill set and time.  Through the 12 months programme, working very closely with my coach, I was able to gain a full understanding of the difference between being an executive board member and a NED.   

What has proved  the key takeaway for you to demonstrate to your line manager back in your workplace? 

Independent thinking, a more rounded appreciation of business (after getting under the skin of another company), an increased level of confidence in my own abilities. 

The Boardroom Ready has been a phenomenal experience and one that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone looking to embark on a NED career.  Hands-on experience, under the guidance of incredibly experienced professionals who are dedicated to helping you succeed.

NED coach for Zoe Bailey: Bryan Foss, Digital NED, Risk & Audit Chair

I’m involved in helping numerous and diverse execs develop onto boards including in NED roles. This programme is encouragingly unique in providing Zoe with a carefully matched ‘board apprentice’ opportunity right from the start. Everything she learns and applies is purposeful and rewarding.

What is the primary role of the coach? 

My role was to support Zoe to stretch herself to be a challenging and supportive independent director (so applying her strong executive skills in a different persona), while also minimising any personal or commercial risks.

How does this happen practically? 

I typically take a checkpoint before and sometimes after each planned board meeting or other event, to discuss aims, outcomes and readiness. This enables ‘just in time’ advice, support and introduction to relevant learning sources for each personal development need. In parallel, Heather and colleagues assist with CV, profile and networking development to match.

Where and how did this focus help Zoe? 

Zoe was already strong as an executive but this programme has clearly lifted her contact, confidence and communication style to board level across her NED placement firm, her own employer and their client companies. Zoe has since been offered a permanent NED role and has become more influential and promotable generally. Any short-term additional time pressure seemed very manageable and worthwhile!

Host Board: Nelson Croom – Alan Nelson, Managing Director 

Zoe has been especially useful in helping us to undertake a strategic review. She advised us on the appropriate process and facilitated a couple of strategy sessions. She combines experience and competence on the one hand with being egoless about the way she facilitates which was extremely effective. It was really useful to have someone there who had done it loads of times before and could reassure us when we had doubts about whether what we were doing would be useful. 

As a result of having  Zoe  on your board, did the dynamic change and if so, in what way? 

She has pulled the conversation a bit across into strategy. The other two non-execs are great, but they are both accountants, so while they are great from a governance perspective, and do engage with the strategy, that is not their core expertise. 

Are you approaching your business differently in any way as a result of an insight from Zoe? 

We have greater clarity about the direction. There is a sense of purpose that has reached beyond the Board. 

Would you do it again? 

Yes, we’d do it again. I don’t see what there is to lose and, in our case, there was lots to gain. Whether that was the process or just Zoe, I don’t know!