Looking to recruit a non-exec Chair?

Six essentials to consider before you start

Fulfilling your organisation’s most senior non-executive role can take far longer, and be far more complicated, than expected. That’s why it’s vital to consider a range of specific aspects of the recruitment process – and get your solutions agreed – before you start.

In this article, Edward Drummond & Co’s Senior Partner and NED recruitment specialist, Neill Fry sets out six essentials to consider:

1. Who will be responsible for the selection process?

Before anything else happens, you need to decide who will write the brief and specs defining the person you’re looking for – both their personality and the experience you want them to bring. Who will run the interviews and narrow down the shortlist? Who will have the final say? Will it be a single person or an ad hoc team? How will decisions be made and approved?

The search could be led by your senior independent director (SID) with Board consensus and external input from shareholders and stakeholders. Alternatively, in SMEs, a CEO or major investor may have greater influence.

Ideally, they would be supported by a proven and experienced non-executive search firm, who will lead the charge on finding candidates and adding insight and valuable advice.

2. What will your business look like in three or five years’ time?

Think about your aspirations for the future. Will your current Board membership still be appropriate? If not, where are the gaps? You should be looking for someone with talents and expertise that complement the experience and specialisations of your existing directors.

3. Consider the ‘personality’ of your current Board

If your current directors have a happy and successful working relationship, you may be concerned that a new non-exec Chair might disrupt and unbalance the Board. However, growth strategies often involve change. No matter how well your current members work together, it could be time for someone to come in and ask constructively challenging questions. As the old adage says, if two people in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.

Your incoming Chair should question whether your current Board culture is the right one to take your business forward – if not, what should it be? Is there enough scrutiny of the Board members? If change is needed, the Chair should help to achieve it by leading from the top and acting as a catalyst.

4. Decide on a recruitment process that will work smoothly and avoid delays

If you have put together a team to recruit your new Chair, you need a strategy to keep the recruitment process moving. Awkward delays and long silences can disenfranchise and de-motivate candidates, as people of the calibre you’re looking for tend to be busy, highly selective and careful with their time. Even worse, it could mean that they get snapped up elsewhere.

Bringing your most senior executives and Board members together in an ad hoc fashion can be challenging and time consuming. You need to think and plan ahead, ensuring everyone keeps time available, perhaps integrating the process into future Board get-togethers.

5. What sort of person do you really want and need?

Many candidates will have had previous careers as the most senior executive in their organisation. However, the typical CEO personality is not necessarily an instant match to some of the softer Chair tasks. For example, you may need them to facilitate an executive team rather than fiercely leading the team from the front and getting things done; although this can also be part of the Chair’s role in an SME or privately owned business.

6. What is the key strategic driver you need your new Chair to bring?

Apart from their expected Board-leading tasks, what other experience would you like them to bring? It could include IPOs, trade-sales, meeting shareholder and investor expectations, or helping to achieve family or business owner aspirations. Whatever you’re looking for needs to be included in the candidate specification.

If you’re looking to upweight your non-exec Board level capability, we can help. For a preliminary discussion, please contact Neill Fry on 07920 055451.