A commercial board appointment is appealing to many because they: offer opportunities to build your executive career; are usually remunerated, allow you to continue working post-retirement, learn new skills and provide personal and professional networking opportunities. Of course, you knew that already and knowing the value of a commercial board appointment means little unless you know how to gain one.
Here are 5 commandments to help you do that:
Commandment #1: Thou shalt tell people they are looking for a commercial board appointment
Over 80% of all board appointments are never advertised or go through any formal board appointment process. More specifically, more than 65% of people are appointed to a board via a personal contact – and approximately 50% of all board appointments occur via someone you meet rarely or infrequently. So, the first and most valuable thing you can do to get a commercial board appointment is to start telling people you are looking for one. It can be that easy!
Commandment #2: Thou shalt be specific
Once you follow the first commandment, you need to be ready for the subsequent question, ‘What company do you want to be appointed to the board of?’. Being specific about your aspirations is critically important and has several benefits. Firstly, and most importantly, it answers the question that people want to know ‘What sort of board role do you want?’ This is important because too many people know that their skills and experience are valuable and transferable to commercial boards. Whilst this is most likely true, it does not mean that they will be appointed because it is not clear to others. In fact, not being specific about one’s board aspirations, including the names of organisations you are targeting, is the number one mistake people make. They come across as generic, poorly thought through, opportunistic and a reputational risk to others. None of these are qualities associated with successful NEDs!
Commandment #3: Thou shalt manage your aspirations
Being specific is essential, but you also need to ensure that the names of the organisations you articulate as targets make sense. If you tell people you want to be the Chair of Coca-Cola but have never worked in the FMCG industry before or have had significant CEO or Board experience then you clearly have next to no chance of getting that commercial board appointment. This will damage your reputation and your chances of being appointed via connections. It is essential that the organisations you WANT to be appointed to, are ones that you CAN be appointed to. If your aspiration is to join a Listed 100 company board, but you have no board experience then you will likely find the journey ahead a frustrating one. It is essential you balance your board aspirations against the reality of your appointment to those commercial boards. Doing so will make your journey more enjoyable and quicker.
Commandment #4: Thou Shalt know your value
You have to be ready to answer the second question you are likely to be asked ‘Why do you want to be appointed to the board of XXX company?’ To answer this, you must know and be able to articulate what your value is and why it is valuable at the board level. This is different to your value and experience as an executive). You need to be able to address the 5 things that a Chair wants to find in a successful director.
Commandment #5: Thou shalt engage and be passionate
Regardless of what your targets for a commercial board appointment might be, you must be passionate about the organisation and what they stand for. I don’t mean being giddy with excitement rather, you must be able to demonstrate you are passionate about one (or all) of three things:
1. what the organisation does
2. what the organisation is, and
3. how your skills and experience will contribute.
Not sharing these will shed a negative and opportunistic slant on your potential appointment. Some may already have this passion, for others, it may need to be manufactured. There are plenty of other ways to develop and demonstrate this passion if you put your mind to it – our Board Appointment Series shows you how.
What and how many commercial board appointments are there in the UK?
There are ~6 million private sector businesses in the UK of which 1.4 million had employees and ~45,000 were deemed to be medium / large enough to warrant having a board. These companies can broadly be broken down into seven sorts of commercial organisations including Large Listed Public Companies, Small Listed, Large Unlisted Public Companies or Large Private Companies, and Family Companies. Of course, when you include start-up or scale-up companies the number could be significantly higher.
A recent UK study found that across all sectors, 82% of organisations with boards recruited a new board member in the last 12 months. Even working with a more conservative figure of 50%, means that potentially there are as many as 22,500 new commercial board appointments each year.
Despite there being thousands and thousands of commercial board appointments being made annually in the UK, there are always going to be far more people that the roles than there are opportunities. As such it is important you can separate yourself from your competitors. So, regardless of the sort of commercial board appointment you are interested in targeting, you must do just that – target it. That means being deliberate in telling people about your aspirations. You can not afford to be everything to everyone, so be explicitly clear about the value you bring to those organisations at board level. Finally, remember to engage with the organisations you are targeting – this can make a massive difference to a Chair and your potential appointment.
The Next Step
Learn how to apply this and other advice, plus the templates and documents you need to use to get a commercial board appointment by becoming an Executive Member. You will receive access to hundreds of vacancies, have a NED CV written for you, and learn the practical skills that have helped thousands of people to gain a board role.
About the Author
David Schwarz is CEO & Founder of Board Appointments – The UK’s leading board advertising and non-executive career support firm. He has over a decade of experience of putting people on boards as an international headhunter and a non-executive recruiter and has interviewed over one thousand non-executives and placed hundreds into some of the most