How to find the right non-executive director for your business

Betty Thayer offers tips on how to go about finding your ideal candidate


The Higgs Report brought to light how non-executive directors (NEDs) can help businesses of any size improve their performance. But how do you find the right one?

The increased scrutiny that boards are facing, both public and private, means that simply tapping into the ‘old boy’s network’ will not necessarily deliver the best candidate. Recruiting an independent director needs to be carefully thought through. Don’t limit your sights. The best person may not be an experienced NED, but have the technical or functional skills to take your board to the next level.

 Define your needs

he motivation for having a NED on your board needs to be clear. If you are just looking for someone to help with business development, then a NED is not necessarily that person. Questions you should ask include: what experience is mandatory, and what balance of experience is required vis-à-vis other directors?

Identify specific characteristics

Add value to your board by making sure you are clear about expectations. What technical or functional areas do you need to address? How much time is realistically required? What do you want to know from referees? How will you assess suitability?

Know your company

Can you objectively describe your company and challenges? Any prospective NED will want to do a thorough job of due diligence on the role and company. Ensure you can accurately describe your strengths and weaknesses, likely strategic challenges and financial health. It will not be unusual for candidates to want to meet your outside advisors or key investors.

Search thoroughly

It is highly likely that your board or business colleagues will be able to suggest possible candidates from existing networks. However, try to avoid rushing for the easiest option. Instead, look for cost-effective alternatives. It is a critical role and throwing the net as wide as possible will pay dividends. Internet searching can be a good place to start as there are a number of databases available. However, if you are uncertain about your requirements, or how to go about shortlisting potential candidates, a recruitment consultant should be able to help. Some sites will recommend reliable recruiters.

Be robust from start to finish

From selection to appointment, it can be tempting to rush at the end once you’ve found your ‘ideal’ NED. All candidates should be assessed according to your objective criteria. You might consider interviewing in both an informal and formal setting – changing the venue can reveal a lot about a candidate’s personality.

Accelerate their learning

Once on board, a planned induction process will help you and your new NED. Visits to facilities and meetings with staff and customers will benefit you both, quickly helping the NED to settle in and be effective.

Betty Thayer is chief executive of internet-based executive and non-executive jobs website Exec-Appointments. She lectures nationally on the role of the non-executive director. In addition, Thayer started, owns or runs a number of other businesses, including management consultancy firm Program Associates, biotech investment fund Nyne, and web business advisory service e-banana. www.non-execs.com

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