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Life as a Non-Executive Director

On Thursday 30th October the Harvey Nash Finance and Banking Practice hosted their first regional executive breakfast event at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Birmingham. As with all Harvey Nash thought leadership events the formula was simple; great speaker, great content, plus a room full of engaged executives all adds up to an extremely thought provoking event. Add a full English breakfast and the satisfaction levels go through the roof!


Our speaker Tim Franklin, guest of Steve Randall, Director of the Harvey Nash Finance and Banking practice, was someone we knew would attract a great audience. Having had a career in Financial Services spanning over 30 years, with 20 of those at executive level, Tim made the call a couple of years ago to embark on a career as a Non-Executive Director (NED) and executive level coach. Now, two years into this new chapter of Tim's career, the choice has proved to be a personally enriching success. Over the course of the presentation and subsequent Q&A session, Tim touched on his journey from cashier at Barclays to MD of Britain's 2nd largest building society, and shared his reflections on his new life as a portfolio NED.

Life as a NED - the reality

Being a NED is a job and absolutely not a hobby for the end of your career. You have fiduciary responsibility. As a NED you should know as much about the business as the execs! In fact, in an FCA regulated environment that principle is enforced. The role requires you to make recommendations on the future of an organisation and you cannot do that without a deep understanding of the business. 
Tim currently holds two NED positions, interestingly, both outside of the sector Tim has spent his whole working life in. His roles, Non-Executive Director of the Post Office and Non-Executive Director and Deputy Chair at the Land Registry, were both secured by significant investment into business development and branding. The Sunday Times was the source of one of the appointments, and the other through recommendation from both former colleagues and regulatory bodies. Tim has also built strong relationships with search consultants like our very own Steve Randall, and proactively meets with them regularly to ensure he is always considered for opportunities that they have. Speaking at and attending networking events also plays a key role in developing new opportunities.

So what criteria does Tim apply when selecting an appointment to pursue? Firstly, don't just say yes to the first thing. Tim decided at the start that he did not want to pigeon hole himself into Financial Services, or any other sector for that matter. Tim wanted diversity so he waited for it. At the heart of his decision was the question "do I believe in the company?" - This question covers multiple facets, starting with the chemistry with the chairman. That relationship is key and Tim would not select a NED appointment if he did not feel he would get on with and could learn from the chair. Whilst the personal relationship with the executive team is not as crucial, believing in them is, so Tim studies capability before progressing. Finally, and crucially, Tim decides if he can add value and if the position will be stimulating and fun. 

What should a NED be?

Tim knew before he went into his first role that he did not want to be the NED who takes a conversation with a single employee as an indicator of the mood of the business and uses that to beat up the Chief Exec. Tim also outlined that he is not there to be an executive and if that is a requirement of the post then maybe that business needs new executive leaders, rather than non-executives. Tim and other successful NEDs should be independent voices. Being careful to never usurp the CEO, Tim positions himself as someone who can challenge direction, be 'the grit in the oyster', someone who can bring a different way of thinking to strategic decisions. Whilst corporate governance dictates that non-execs should meet separately as a group, Tim works hard to ensure there is no 'them and us' feeling. As a board member Tim still gets the same sense of team and togetherness that he got during his executive career, in fact he is now part of a number of teams. 

Tim's Top Tips

  • Start taking on NED appointments whilst you are still an executive as it gives vital experience and insight. Whilst this is challenging, you can find engagements that are less time demanding/stretching (different business within your group, location close to home, sector you know well etc).
  • View this as a career. Invest in your network, make choices that will open future doors and give the role as much energy and diligence as you ever did your executive life.
  • 'When' you become a NED should not be dictated by the length of time you have served as an exec. If you can listen, challenge and are driven by the right motives, then you can make the move. But remember, credibility is key. The career you have had, however long or short, has to demand the respect of your colleagues.
  • Being a non-exec means that you do less 'fire-fighting'. Tim's blackberry no longer flashes away with the operational problems it once did. Rather than sit back and enjoy that fact, Tim dedicates significant time to reading reports and other research so that he can ensure he picks up on things that execs may have skimmed over. 
  •  Alongside his non-exec appointments Tim also works with 5 exec coaching clients, performs an advisory role for a global tech business and does some pro-bono work. This portfolio of activities gives Tim constant streams of engagement and ensures Tim has the breadth he set out to achieve from the start. 

(Written by Chris Seel) 

If you would like any more information about this this event or are interested in attending future Finance and Banking breakfasts, please get in touch with Steve Randall on 0121 717 1919 or email at steve.randall@harveynash.com