Many people seeking a board appointment understand the role and have plenty to offer a board. However, they become disillusioned after reading board vacancy adverts containing selection criteria lists that do not reflect their skills and experience. They come to me with a desire to gain a board appointment but begin to ask themselves, “If there is a board appointment for me, or am I wasting my time?”.’ It is a common question that should be addressed when considering your board goals.
The simple answer is yes, there is, and no, you are not wasting your time. The reality is there is a board appointment for just about everyone, and there are only three reasons you will not be successful in gaining one. Before I tell you the reasons, let’s get some insights into the board vacancy market.
There are thousands of board roles in the UK
There are approximately ~6 million private sector businesses, of which 1.4 million had employees, and 46,000 were deemed medium or large (over 50 employees). The UK also has ~166,000 registered charities. Additionally, there are ~550 Government agencies and public bodies and 23 Departments with ~400 entities. In total, that means that there are ~1000 government entities. Let’s say that conservatively just 25% of the private businesses, plus all the medium and large businesses, and 25% of the charities and government entities have boards. In total, that would be ~350,000 organisations that have boards.
The 2022 UK Spencer Stuart Index found that board composition in the UK averages 93% of members being non-executive directors. Let’s make a conservative assumption that the average board comprises 6 Non-Executives (many will have far more and others less); almost 2,016,000 board roles exist in the UK!
Now let’s take an even more cautious view and say my counting is off by 50%. In this scenario, there would be closer to one million board non-executive or independent directors in the UK. Whilst these figures might be a little rubbery, it seems clear to me that even from a highly conservative perspective, hundreds of thousands of board roles exist.
There are thousands of board vacancies filled each year
So, the question I know you really want to be answered is not ‘How many boards/board members exist?’ but ‘How many of them are actively looking for new board members?’
A recent study found that 82% of organisations recruited a board member across all sectors in the UK in the last 12 months. If we look again at the 2022 UK Spencer Stuart Index findings, the average UK board competition is 93% NEDs, with the average NED tenure being 4.3 years and 55% being between 1-3 years. This means that boards are replacing non-executive directors significantly more often than you would have thought. For this exercise, however, let’s take a more conservative figure of 50%. This means that as many as 180,000 new board members are appointed yearly. Wow!
This is great news… but for who?
We have now firmly established that there are plenty of board opportunities available. So, the next question is, “Is there a role that is right for you?”. If you are starting on this journey or feel you ‘got lucky’ with your first board appointment, I want to assure you that there is a board role that is right for you.
What that board role looks like depends on three factors.
- What are your board aspirations? Many aspiring board members come unstuck because their aspirations do not reflect reality. Many spend time trying to be appointed to boards that, although they could contribute, their lack of board experience means they will not get a look in. If your board aspirations are unrealistic, no matter how many exist, you will not find a board appointment. If your aspirations are balanced against the reality of your potential appointment, you can target the right companies, including those willing to be a little flexible. You may even find that a board appointment occurs far quicker than you imagined.
- What is your value at board level? That means having a compelling board pitch that you can deliver verbally in a ‘watercooler moment’, through a Board CV, in an application, and of course, in an interview. If you can’t, you won’t get appointed, regardless of whether you choose the right company to target.
- Finally, your ability to be proactive in finding the right board appointment. You need to quickly realise that board roles rarely just land in your lap. In fact, 80% of all board appointments occur via ‘informal’ board recruitment processes. To tap into these board opportunities, you must be proactive, planned and persistent with your approach.
Is there really a board appointment for everyone?
In reality, gaining a board appointment is highly competitive – there are far fewer opportunities than aspiring non-executive directors. However, those who can articulate their value at board level, who know which organisations will value them, are passionate, flexible and proactive will discover plenty of opportunities to consider.
How you find and gain these roles is a different proposition. If you want to find out more, Board Appointments can help.
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 significant public, private and NFP roles in the world.