How to become a non-executive director: 5 things to contemplate when considering a NED career

How to become a non-executive director: 5 things to contemplate when considering a NED career

Jes Ladva, Partner, Odgers Interim and Odgers Connect, explains how you can tell if you have what’s required for a non-executive director role – and how to get yourself NED-ready if you’re not quite there yet.

There are plenty of good reasons to become a non-executive director. It’s a fulfilling way of broadening your horizons and contributing to the success of an organisation. And if you are still working in an executive role, a means of boosting your career. All of which adds up to good NED positions being highly sought-after and competition to secure these roles is strong.

As discussed with my colleague, Mark Freebairn, Head of Board Practice at Odgers Berndtson and Richard Meddings, one of the most accomplished board chairs and newly appointed Chair of NHS England, the role of the NED has perhaps never been as important as it is now.

Richard said:  “As we face the range of STEEPLE [Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, Political, Legal, and Ethical] challenges globally and locally, NEDs provide the necessary insight, inquiry and foundations to all manner of organisations in transforming these challenges into opportunities.

“It’s a very demanding time to be a NED, for anyone pursuing a NED portfolio it is increasingly important to carefully consider this transition and then to thoroughly prepare.”

So, how you can tell if you have what’s required for a non-executive director role? And how can you get yourself NED-ready if you’re not quite there yet?

Here are 5 things to consider in preparing yourself:

1. Ensure you understand the role

NED roles are about scrutinising, supporting, advising, guiding, challenging. Not doing. Mentoring and providing constructive criticism can be hugely rewarding but doesn’t suit everyone. Boards want to steer clear of that operational NED who can’t let go of their prior hands-on executive approach.

2. What experience have you gained?

Ideally you will have had an executive career where you have been directly responsible for proven impact, results at scale and dealing with demanding issues. It’s a difficult transition to make if you have neither C-level executive experience nor experience presenting to a board. If you don’t have any board experience, get some! Whether on a pro bono basis or as a trustee somewhere, gaining valuable experience will put you in a stronger position when applying to become a NED. 

3. Do your values match those of the organisation?

Match your values to those of the organisation and ensure you have the capacity/flexibility to take on a sporadic workload. Also, is your experience a good fit for the scale, complexity and needs of the organisation and the respective committees served by boards?

4. Boards are looking for diversity

This is an increasing factor and we see this in what boards are asking us for and more widely – e.g. McKinsey research on the business case for DEI at the top, or the CBI’s call for the biggest firms to have at least one BAME member on their boards.

There has been huge progress on gender diversity in recent years. In February, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy issued a press release trumpeting a “sea-change in UK boardrooms” due to women making up nearly 40% of FTSE-100 top table roles, up from just 12.5% a decade earlier.

However, in March FT Advisor reported that board gender parity will not happen until 2042. Clearly, there is much more still to do. 

5. What expertise do you bring to the table?

Understand your expertise and role in pursuing NED roles. Knowing your strengths and the ability to clearly articulate what skills you bring to the table are vital in avoiding a mismatch. It’s better to demonstrate depth of expertise in a few key areas rather than try to play the ‘generalist’ card and spread yourself too thinly. Always remember that objectivity is called for.

As part of our commitment to this transition, we are holding a series of events in support of developing aspiring NEDs.

For more information, please contact Jes Ladva.


Fiona Endersby at 26/05/2022 14:22 said:

Thank you I think you have summarised some key points here. I think there is some education to be down with some organisations too in terms of the role of the NED, and how to get the best of them. I really enjoy my NED roles and hope to use the experience along with my regular working life to support more organisations in the future .

Amy at 26/05/2022 17:28 said:

Hi Jes
Great article! One thing I think a lot of companies miss is age diversity when considering NEDs. As someone with a background in Digital Communications I am often told I am too young to be a NED however I was already working when both Google and Facebook Ads launched, so I have been advising for as long as these huge advertisers have been available, being older literally wouldn’t make a difference to my practical expertise. Secondly, millennials are now the largest cohort for advertisers to target, we have the strongest buying power, and are working in the C-suite of many renowned Fortune500 and FTSE100 companies, yet being turned away from NED roles…. Why? If companies want to be dynamic, move with the times and look to the future they need younger advisors in the mix too. Some companies are now taking on Shadow boards of younger execs, this is a fab idea as well for and I would love to see Odgers encourage both younger NEDs and Shadow boards appointments for better age diversity and representation in leadership.

Jes Ladva at 31/05/2022 11:42 said:

Good information, @Amy and a key point re shadow boards – as they continue to evolve/ influence.

Jes Ladva at 31/05/2022 11:42 said:

Thanks @Fiona, good comment - particularly so given the multitude and depth of challenges/ opportunities facing organisations.

Annie Callanan at 28/06/2022 15:12 said:

Really interesting article Jes thanks for that including the need for diversity and of course expertise from different but related disciplines. Managing change in pressured organizations with interdependent relationships remains a challenge, for us all. However it is crucial to get that right for those who use services.

Jes Ladva at 13/07/2022 09:27 said:

Thanks for your comment Annie, key point re diversity of thought and also interdependency given supply chains, partnerships, JV’s etc.

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