Denise Kingsmill: Navigating the board

MT welcomes a distinguished new columnist who dispenses advice for those brave enough to take on a non-executive role.

by Denise Kingsmill

I didn't know what being a NED entailed when I took up my first plc directorship in the early 1990s. I'd been persuaded by the silky encouragement of Yve Newbold, a leading head-hunter and boardroom veteran herself.

I'd advised many boards, and the boardroom was where I had conducted much of my life as a lawyer - or rather, it often felt, in the corridor outside, waiting to give my 15-minute presentation, practising my air of professional cool and swatting into submission the butterflies in my stomach. It's usually at moments of corporate crisis that lawyers are involved in the boardroom, and it was my job to give calm advice in the face of serious threat. Hostile takeover bids, CEO dismissals or major frauds - I did them all.

But this was scant preparation for the real role of non-executive director, on the receiving end of advice. Having to decide with your colleagues how to act together in the best interests of the company is a lot harder than dispensing advice and moving on to the next case. What is meat and potatoes to a corporate lawyer is rare and unusual for most non-execs. The day-to-day business of the boardroom is more likely to involve budgets, strategy and sales targets than the high drama I'd been accustomed to.

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