A CAREER GATEWAY IS OPENING UP FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INVESTOR RELATIONS PROFESSIONALS TO ENTER MAINSTREAM BUSINESS LEADERSHIP THROUGH NON-EXECUTIVE DIRECTORSHIPS. THAT WAS THE THEME AT OUR LATEST BREAKFAST SEMINAR, HELD TO LAUNCH THE THIRD OF OUR REPORTS ON HOW PRACTITIONERS ARE BREAKING THROUGH TO THE BOARDROOM.
Hosted by investment bank UBS, and in partnership with the FT Board Director Programme, the European Association of Communication Directors and the UK IR Society, the session featured insights and advice from four former communications and IR leaders who have taken non-executive roles. Our panellists stressed that such posts are in no way sinecures and are extremely demanding. For professionals wanting to demonstrate general management and business skills, however, this is a developing career route well worth the time, effort and preparation involved.
However, boards are under increasing pressure to demonstrate better stewardship and decision-making and foster diversity and inclusion. This has opened up a path for IR and communications professionals to contribute perspectives gained from their close links with investors, media and other stakeholders.
“IR and communications are increasingly becoming good platforms for a non-executive director’s career,” said Rachel Kentleton, finance director at payment services group PayPoint and a non-executive director at housebuilder Persimmon. “It’s about joining up external and internal stakeholders in a multi-faceted way from government through to shareholders. Having a perspective on that will be invaluable to any board because that’s probably a skill set that a lot of boards are deficient in; the joined-up stakeholder view.”
Sue Clark, a former managing director of SABMiller Europe and corporate affairs director of Railtrack and Scottish Power, who is a non-executive at Imperial Brands, Britvic, Bakkavor Group and AkzoNobel believes IR and communications executives can also provide muchneeded digital expertise in boardrooms. “That’s where I think corporate communicators and IR folks can really differentiate themselves,” she said.
PICK A SECTOR YOU KNOW
“ Start somewhere where you have a skill set that you can bring to the table,” advised Kate Bolsover, who chairs Fidelity Asian Values and Invesco Perpetual Enhanced Income investment trusts and is a non-executive director at TR Property Investment Trust. Kate has been an investment trust non-executive since 2005 but already knew the sector well.
Rachel Kentleton, meanwhile, admitted to our audience that she has long had a penchant for viewing show homes! It makes the job more enjoyable because she is genuinely interested in the business, she said.
START THE PREPARATIONS NOW
Making the move to a non-executive directorship involves planning and perseverance. “Be really patient but start now,” said Amanda Mellor.
“If you think it’s something you’ll do in five years time, you still need to start laying the foundations. It will take time and you might hear nothing for a year. You need to keep the oil on the wheels, keep going and start to build out the breadth of what you’re able to offer.”
We believe that companies are at the start of a trend that will see these types of transitions become more and more commonplace. This has to be the start of a sustained campaign to raise the profile of corporate affairs and investor relations as a potential source for the next business leaders and non-executive directors. It used to be an ambition but now it is a reality as our panellists prove.