Journey to NED
“You don't want to be looking like the operator in the room. You’re not”. Discover more in the ‘Navigating the Journey to NED’ Hot Seat.
In this In The Hot Seat discussion, our moderator Doug Drinkwater was joined by a panel of experienced C-suite technology executives and NEDs to discuss the role, responsibilities and purpose of an NED. In what ways can leaders navigate the journey to the next natural step beyond the C-suite?
Leadership insights from:
With Doug Drinkwater, Director of Strategy at HotTopics, moderating this roundtable debate, the speakers included:
- Anna Barsby, CPTO, 888 Holdings
- Nadine Thomson, Group CTO, GroupM
- Trent Larson, NED, Magnetic North Acquisition Corporation
- Heather Barnes, Partner, Technology & Digital, Leathwaite
Watch highlights: Navigating the Journey to NED
This roundtable was recorded at The Studio. To find out more, click ‘The Studio’.
Ready to discover more? If you liked these highlights, click the button below to watch the full roundtable debate.
Typical roles and responsibilities of the NED
For the current CPTO at 888 Holdings, Anna Barsby, the role of the NED is now very different. In her view, the biggest distinction is the need to take on the extra responsibility of being a consultancy advisor, as opposed to being accountable for delivery.
Anna has a unique position compared to most, holding the position of both executive and Non-Executive Director. “I have to have to put different hats on and be very deliberate about the role that I'm playing”, she said.
While juggling these different responsibilities, Anna also needs to help the other parties in this relationship understand the role. While this may seem like a great deal of work to some, Anna feels that both roles complement each other, allowing her to expand her skills in both positions.
Picking up on Anna’s previous point, Group CTO at GroupM Nadine Thompson agreed that NEDs do their best to coach and steer the team in the right direction. Despite this, Nadine has learnt that the executive team may still decide to head in a different direction.
“You're trying to provide what you think is good direction. And sometimes it's not adhered to”, said Magnetic North Acquisition Corporation’s NED, Trent Larson. Looking back on the last couple of decades, he argued that the rate of the pace of change is picking up speed. One unwanted addition to this change, he noted, is the rising rate of crises.
Listing the number of issues that have arisen over the years, Trent recalled the millennium dot com crash, the financial crisis of 2008, the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and the global instability around the Russia-Ukraine War. In light of these challenges, those who hold executive roles at Board level ought to ask more questions than give answers, in Trent’s view.
The role of the NED: key learnings
Circling back to this previous point on the changing responsibilities of the non-executive role, Trent agreed that you need to adopt a different approach compared to other leadership roles. This is because the type of guidance you provide the team in this role needs to be at a strategic level.
Trent also discovered that it is important to engage the wider stakeholder network–this translates into the importance of your team and customers. His view is that the more successful executives and board teams know when to focus on the human component of the business rather than the “bottom line”.
In response to Doug’s prompt on the communication aspect of the role, Nadine talked about the “board mindset” she has adopted since starting her executive career. When bringing an idea to the CEO, Nadine tries to think from the perspective of an NED and consider what other questions she could ask based on this. In addition to increasing credibility, she argued that this also gives insight into boardroom conversations.
“Probably 90 percent of the board members don't understand your technology or your transformation or your data strategy”. Anna explained that, as a result, she has dialled down her communication to the Board and simplified her technical language to get her point across in a more straightforward manner.
The NED and technology landscape
As part of this In The Hot Seat, both virtual and in-person audience members viewing the session were able to ask the panellists questions during the debate, with topics including working with vendors and steering the board.
Halfway through the ‘Journey to NED’ discussion, the panellists were asked how they would advise the Board with which vendors they should work. In response, Trent started off by pointing out that the landscape is changing quickly – “if you're referring to where we may have sanctions or child labour issues”.
Nadine disagreed. She doesn’t believe that it is the role of the NED to advise on or against vendors. “Unless you have not got a solid CIO, CTO… then you have got a problem there”, she said. If this is the case, Nadine argued that they should be changing that C-suite role.
“They can't stop operating and reaching back down”, said Leathwaite’s Technology & Digital Partner, Heather Barnes. This is one of the comments that comes up when headhunters talk to chairs, CEOs executives and non-executives.
Going back to the idea of advising the Board on vendors, Heather argued that you would be in danger of standing out in the wrong way. “You don't want to be looking like the operator in the room. You’re not”, she said.
Journey from CMO to NED
A leader never stops learning. Marketers in particular have had to be both adaptable to evolutions in their responsibilities and resilient to market forces that impact everything, from its customers’ habits to its quarterly budgets. There comes a point, however, when the skills and experience a CMO acquires can be put to good use elsewhere; this is normally when the Non-Executive Director, or NED, role comes into view.
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