COMING UP FAST: Building to last - Which non-exec?

COMING UP FAST: Building to last - Which non-exec? - DILEMMA: I've just had to part company with a non-executive director. He had a great track record but we couldn't get him out of chief executive mode. I need a good non-exec, how can I avoid another mistake?

by PATRICK DUNNE who works with 3i
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

DILEMMA: I've just had to part company with a non-executive director. He had a great track record but we couldn't get him out of chief executive mode. I need a good non-exec, how can I avoid another mistake?

ISSUES: Success obviously depends on picking the right person, but there must also be clarity about what they are there for and how you will work together. Before thinking about what characteristics you're looking for, think about why you want a non-exec in the first place.

Are you clear about the role of your board? One way of defining it might be Right Strategy, Right Resources and Keep Out Of Jail - sorry, Right Governance. In other words, making sure that the right strategy is in place, that you have the right resources, including people and money, and that there is good governance. Non-execs should contribute in each of these areas. You may also want them to be a coach or mentor.

What general characteristics should you look for? Great judgment, strong interpersonal skills and superb antennae. They also need a 'cuddle and kick' personality and should know when it is relevant to get involved and when not.

The transition from CEO to non-exec can be tricky, perhaps because the compulsive/obsessive, control freak tendencies so handy to have in the CEO job are inappropriate for an NED. Maybe you should look for a seasoned campaigner rather than someone learning the art.

Where do you find these paragons? Try your network, a search firm, your advisers, VC investors.

What should you focus on when interviewing? Check that they fit with you, your strategy and the rest of the team. Do they have the right knowledge, skills and behaviour to make a difference? Discuss the real issues you're wrestling with and avoid sitting back and letting them play the CV tape.

Involving others in the process helps, and thorough referencing is essential.

ACTION

- Be clear on the role of the board and what you want your non-exec to do.

- Having made a choice, invest time in preparing a letter of appointment that clarifies the role and the practical aspects of the relationship, and details the induction and review process.

- Finally, remember that high energy is good in a non-exec, but only if combined with great judgment, strong interpersonal skills and superb antennae

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