Typically, there are four ways UK board appointments are made:
- Through a personal connection;
- The direct approach to board or organisation;
- By responding to an advertisement, or;
- Through a search firm or recruiter.
Depending on where you are in your executive and board career, some pathways may be more effective than others. It is important to understand each of them and decide where they fit in your efforts to gain a board appointment.
Let’s look at some statistics
Over the years, I regularly conducted surveys asking current UK non-executive directors “how they were appointed to their most recent board”. The results have alway been much the same; however, with the demand for transparency and more diversity on UK boards, I believe that whilst recruiters and advertised recruitment methods are common they are massively outweighed by informal board appointment processes.
These results will vary depending on the type of board, the type of organisation and the industry they operate. Essentially the results are:
- 65% of people are appointed to a board through a personal connection;
- 15% were appointed directly after approaching the company or board that they wanted to sit on;
- 10% via a recruitment firm and
- 10% in response to an advertisement (at best).
It is possible that their appointment was the result of more than one of these board appointment pathways, and my survey results have not accounted for this scenario. But, even if you considered this, it is clear that most UK board appointments are made via personal connections.
Indeed, many non-executive directors I speak with tell me that at least one of their non-executive appointments resulted from a personal connection. They also tell me that they often have dealings with recruiters, and regardless of how their board appointments occurred, they were still required to provide at least a Board CV before any formal conversations could begin.
Understand the process by which UK Board Appointments are made
During the initial setup, a company will submit the required paperwork to Company House, declaring the identity and consent of the directors. From then on, the appointment of any new directors and non-executive directors will be governed by the Articles of Association and approved by the shareholders or the board.
In general, during the initial process of appointing a new director, boards will follow a procedure:
Step 1 – The current board will meet to discuss the appointment of a new director and develop some recruitment methodology – how they will find this person.
Step 2 – Identify and detail the skills, experience, qualifications and qualities they seek. Agree on the terms and conditions of the director’s appointment.
Step 3 – Refer to the Articles of Association to ensure all necessary processes will be adhered to.
Step 4 – Open discussion to see if board members have someone in mind for the role. If not, commence a formal recruitment process – advert or recruiter.
Not all boards want or need non-executive directors
For listed companies, the UK Corporate Governance Code states that: The board should contain a mix of executive and non-executive directors and that at least half the board, including the chair, should be independent non-executive directors. No individual or small group of individuals can dominate the board’s decision-making.
On the other hand, a private limited company must have at least one director, and a public limited company must have at least two directors and a company secretary. While the law does not dictate the maximum number of directors on a board, the Articles of Association may.
Spend some time considering the types of boards and organisations you wish to pursue. Develop a list and research their board composition to ensure potential non-executive director opportunities exist.
Where should you be focusing your time?
If you spend 100% of your time working with recruiters or responding to advertisements, the statistics show that you may be working at it for a long time before you see success.
From these statistics and the process by which UK board appointments are made, it is clear that you must spend a substantial part of your time creating and nurturing personal connections.
In saying that, you must be clear about the types of roles and companies, you are targeting. Some of these options will favour one of the four ways board appointments are made. For example, suppose you are pursuing a UK Government Public Appointment ( a chair or non-executive director, for a board of a public body, a member of an advisory committee or an office holder). In that case, positions will be advertised, and government ministers will formally appoint positions through a recruitment process. Your time would not be best spent networking or directly approaching the boards or committees.
Regardless of which of the four ways UK board appointments are made you decide to focus on, you must have a Board CV and be able to articulate your value proposition in writing and in person.
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 in 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.