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Deciphering the Non-Executive Director

What can communications professionals contribute to Boards as Non-Executive Directors?

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This morning Hudson Sandler hosted, in partnership with CorpComms, a fascinating panel discussion we headlined ‘Deciphering the Non-Executive Director’. The idea was to invite leading corporate affairs practitioners who have built a broader NED portfolio and joined executive management committees. To that end, we were pleased that Rebecca Shelley (NED at Sabre Insurance and formerly Head of Corporate Affairs at Tesco and TP ICAP), Maria Darby-Walker (NED at Personal Group and professional coach to top executives) and Nicola Green (Executive Committee, Telefónica UK – O2) volunteered their insights. All three have had long and successful careers in communications and are now contributing to broader deliberations as Board members. Many of the UK’s top Corporate Affairs Directors came to hear the discussion and pose their questions, as they too evaluate a transition into NED roles.

The journeys of Rebecca, Maria and Nicola were fascinating, and three key themes emerged.

Firstly, candidates should think very carefully about what they can contribute to the whole picture. The key role of a NED is to scrutinise and challenge all decision-making, not just that related to communications. None of our guests achieved their appointment because of their communications expertise, but rather for the contribution they could make more broadly given their expertise and experiences. Don’t be pigeonholed.

Secondly, we discussed why Boards now more than ever need to look beyond the more traditional NED hunting grounds of CEOs, lawyers, accountants and engineers. Broader corporate purpose and culture are now a key focus for Board deliberation. Look at many of the great corporate catastrophes since the financial crisis and with hindsight many say, “well of course, the culture was the fundamental problem.” Boards now embrace the concept that aligning culture to corporate strategy is crucial to successfully minimising risk. There can be no doubt that those with a background in corporate affairs and communications are more strongly placed to contribute to these key areas, whilst also being more sensitive to the early warning signals that culture may be putting a business at risk.

 

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Finally, we discussed the generational change that is now working itself through at Chairman level. Those that have come to leadership positions over the last twenty years are going to be even more aware of the societal impact of business in a world where community engagement and carbon reduction are central to corporate purpose. We all see investors increasingly focused on ESG criteria when they evaluate investment decisions. The new generation of Chairpeople must live and breathe these dynamics. They want NEDs that help their Boards to be fully fit for purpose in today’s environment.

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So, the event ended on an optimistic note. Now more than ever, talented individuals from our profession will inevitably be part of the NED mix.

Many thanks from Hudson Sandler to Rebecca, Maria and Nicola for their time and insights.

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