What the new Non-Exec Director brings to the business

  29 May, 2018      Company UpdatesIndustry Insights
What the new Non-Exec Director brings to the business

John Palfreyman shares his thoughts on becoming the newly appointed Non-exec Director for Novus.

Novus is privately owned by John Seddon’s family. The family have been in business for over 120 years and have a very clear view of why they are in business together.

Following my appointment as Non-Executive Director at Novus Property Solutions, I recently had the pleasure of attending a “Non-Executive Directors (NED) in a Family Business” masterclass, run by the Institute of Family Businesses in association with the Financial Times.

This inspirational one-day session was delivered by practitioners with a wealth of first-hand family business experience.  The delegates were either engaged as NEDs, or seeking to appoint a NED into a family business leading to fascinating discussions in the breaks and breakout sessions.

These are my ten key “take-aways” from this session:

1. Clarity of role – for the NED to be successful, it is essential that there is total clarity of what is expected from them.  This needs to be shared with the board members – and (obviously) the NED – then periodically reviewed.

2. Champion of family culture – family businesses have a culture so clear “that you can taste it” (quote from one of the keynote speakers).  For example, Novus’ family values are documented here.  It’s essential that the NED understands, buys into and then champions the family values in all interactions with the business.  The NED must also speak up in the event that family culture and business goals misalign.

3. Balanced attributes – a NED is usually recruited to fill specific knowledge gaps at Board Level.  But the NED’s personal chemistry with family members and the Chief Executive Officer are equally as important and an essential pre-requisite for success.  The interpersonal aspects need to be nurtured through regular, informal interactions with the Board and family members.

4. Comprehensive on-boarding – the NED’s time to value is directly attributable to the quality and thoroughness of the on boarding process.  Gone are the days when an hour with the Company Secretary walking through the last Board pack will suffice.  The new NED must take time to get to know the Board, family members and Chief Executive Officer and their on boarding should include visits to selected remote office locations to understand how the company operates.

5. Complete objectivity – the NED must be totally objective (and be seen to be so) in their advice to the Board and Chief Executive Officer, and avoid forming closer ties with specific Board members.  The NED must also avoid getting involved in family or Board “politics” and forming “power axes” with other NEDs or Board members.

6. Mentoring – the NED is ideally placed to mentor selected Board and executive team members, including the ‘next generation’ family members.

7. External context – the NED brings external context into the family business, mitigating the risks arising from “it’s always been done like this” philosophy.

8. Successor planning – because of their objectivity and external context they bring, the NED is also ideally positioned to help with successor planning, to ensure that opportunities for key staff are achieved and the “flight risk” for key position holders is mitigated.

9. Challenging, but ego-free – the NED should (and must) challenge the Chief Executive Officer and family members where appropriate, but must do this in a sensitive, ego free manner avoiding confrontation and from a position of objectivity.

10. Sounding board – the NED must be available to the Chief Executive Officer and family members for brainstorming, idea validation and so on.  Again, the NED will offer impartial, objective advice in these interactions acting as a “critical friend” to the business.

I am very excited to be able to fulfil the position of the Non-Executive Director for Novus after working in the information technology industry for 40 years, most recently with IBM at director level.

Novus has a history of innovation which has seen it embrace change and adapt to meet new challenges. It’s an exciting time to join the business as it looks to improve efficiencies through digitisation and leverage information for strategic advantage. I will be working with Novus’ Board of Directors to integrate information-led innovations into project delivery and business management.

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