Plural Roles in the Boardroom

The profile of executives is changing, which is affecting the make-up of non-executive positions in the powerhouses of businesses across the country. If you’re after such a post, here’s to make the most of the opportunities that await.
Plural roles in the boardroom

During the past few years we have seen a number of ‘out-of-sector’ appointments to key board positions, e.g., Stephen Murphy at Byron, Allan Leighton at Wagamama and Debbie Hewitt at TRG, often replacing industry veterans.

As the hospitality and leisure industry changes and prepares for challenges ahead, the profile of executives is changing. Many conventional hospitality business are becoming multi-channel retailers thus changing the nature of the executive role.

This, in turn, is changing the profile of the non-executive roles. So what do the next generation of non-executives need to do to set them-selves up for a successful plural career given this trend?

To develop a strong platform for a plural career, executives from within the industry must ensure they have the breadth required to add value to future strategic challenges. They must prioritise and embrace innovation in particular. Who would have envisaged that unmanned gyms, pod hotels, self-service casual-dining restaurants and Michelin-starred pubs would be the trends of today? Business leaders must advance their service models and brands, embracing the next generation of customers and trends as well as creating efficient outlets to cope with challenges such as rising rents and legislation.

Furthermore, they must ensure digital channels perform and add value because digital engagement is an important part of the customer experience. The customer journey, with the impact of social media, starts before the customer arrives on site today, particularly for a new generation.

Success on the plural route

With such challenges, the ‘customer experience director’ function is emerging, following the trend of multi-channel media companies, linking marketing, service, development and trading into one board role. It is appointments such as Pizza Express’s customer director from MasterCard that will present a challenge for executives from within the sectors vying for the same non-executive post in the future.

Successful executives in the industry, who master the art of leading traditional disciplines such as finance and operations as well as embracing innovation, will have a much stronger opportunity to go down the plural route. However, to secure such a role in an increasingly competitive market place, it is recommended to plan for this transition as early as possible because it is unlikely to occur without preparation or thought.

Important to any executive wanting to advance their career is to understand their motivations. Are the motivations: work-life balance, more control of time, the opportunity to ‘give something back’, working with new sectors or simply career advancement? In addition to this, they will need to be sure to consider their own personal financial position as the remuneration will be less or even pro bono.

Consider the skills gap and try to understand any personal development needs. Discuss these with mentors and other non executives to get their opinion on areas to strengthen within the needed skill set. Once areas for development are identified, it is important to focus on these and set out to improve them. This can be achieved through NED (non-executive director) courses, mentoring and coaching, and will be complemented by the increasing stretch of the executive role given the challenges mentioned earlier.

Through such dialogue, the strengths of any executive will also be identified. Being clear on how these strengths can add value to a board is key because the first appointment is likely to be closely linked with the core experience of the executive career. There are many ways to progress with non executive roles and understanding where one wants to position a plural career will help to focus where one needs to develop.

Be discerning over offers

They say getting the first role can be the most difficult. That may well be the case. However, do not underestimate the importance of choosing the right role, not necessarily the first role on offer.

Do not be afraid to decline an opportunity, be as selective with non-executive roles as with roles in the executive career and do ensure every role adds value to the long-term plan. Keep the end goal in mind.

It is important to do due diligence, not just corporate governance and compliance, but also regarding culture. Corporate governance and compliance are the primary responsibilities of the board and will reflect directly on your reputation when considered for other roles. As with any other role, it is important to be culturally suited to the business, be it a PLC, private equity backed or privately owned company.

Be open minded, while in an executive role it may be sensible to consider the third sector and working with organisations with a social purpose or significant personal interest. This will also enable any executive to hone influencing skills and use their emotional intelligence to influence not-for-profit executives whose core objectives will be different to most objectives in industry. Doing so will be very different to leading commercial executive teams but the learning can be pivotal to the success in a non executive capacity.

The transition to a plural career is a gradual process, be patient and realistic about the time it will take to adapt. Effectiveness in the role is of high importance.

The non executive role will be working with a more complex framework of peers, and potentially new sectors. Do not underestimate the amount of learning such a role will require, as well as the emotional energy needed. The role may feel out of your comfort zone initially, but take the time to settle in, observe and learn. Understanding board dynamics and the business before imparting advice or looking to influence will prove very valuable in the long term.


Gather knowledge

Many experienced plural directors comment that a non-executive director will not be as effective in the role, if they hold more than one non-executive post at first, while also in a demanding executive role.

Finally, reach out to the network, engage with head hunters, mentors and other non executives who are able to share knowledge and experience as well as provide valuable insight and advice along the way.

As traditional hospitality and leisure businesses evolve at pace, so must the executives who lead them. This, combined with preparation and planning for the latter stages of a career will ensure the executives of today are better suited to the demands of the non-executive of the future.