Tell us about your current non-executive roles.
I am fortunate to have four non-executive positions at present, which is something I am very proud of as I have only recently made the transition from a full-on executive career to a “plural” career.
Two of these roles are in the healthcare sector – Summit Medical Group and Frontier Medical Group. I was CEO of Summit Medical for over a decade and made the transition to a non-executive role in 2012/13. In many ways this was a natural transition in my involvement and contribution to the company. With Frontier Medical, I was delighted to be invited to join the Board as a non-executive by Kester Capital following their acquisition of the business in December 2013. This is a really enjoyable and stimulating role as the business sets about implementing an exciting programme of growth and development, building upon the heritage and success of the past. As a new non-exec, I am really enjoying my role in providing support and guidance to our new Managing Director.
My third appointment is Chairman of Bracebridge Corporate Finance. This exposes me to challenges and issues away from my core areas of experience and I am finding the whole experience to be stimulating and motivating. I was invited by Andy Moore, Managing Director, to take on the position of Chairman in early 2014. His business proposition and service offering to entrepreneurs and business leaders is based upon the principles of sound advice, personal and tailored support and credible know-how and I am delighted to play a part in the establishment of Bracebridge.
I am also delighted to say that I have now been appointed Chairman of The Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt NHS Foundation Trust and will be taking up this position in February.
What has been your biggest success or achievement in a non-exec role?
This is difficult to answer for two reasons – firstly I am still relatively new to non-executive life and secondly, it is not always easy to identify a specific success or achievement. However, I am quietly pleased with my role in helping the management team and investors at Frontier Medical achieve a seamless transition of responsibility from the previous senior managers to the new team, including the new MD, who commenced in post after the acquisition. This is often a point of turbulence and uncertainty which can impact company performance. At Frontier, this was not the case and this was due in great part to the collective efforts of all involved – and, without overstating my contribution, I like to think I was able to establish a level of shared understanding and trust with not only the new arrivals but also the departing managers which helped deliver a smooth transition and hand-over.
Do you have any tips for CEOs looking to find their first non-exec role?
My experiences over the last 2- 3 years have taught me a few things. Firstly; be patient – opportunities can take a long time to develop and it is important to recognise this. Secondly, work hard to become known to as many businesses and individuals as possible, who may be your conduit to a non-exec role. If your focus is private equity backed businesses, be prepared to commit time and effort to getting in front of as many PE firms as possible. Register with all the relevant recruitment and placement specialists and dust-off your old card index to spread the word that you are available and seeking a new role. Thirdly, be realistic about where your CV will encourage people to place you. If you have spent your career in small, privately owned businesses, it must surely be in your interests to focus effort on that size and structure of business rather than targeting large, publically listed enterprises. Fourthly, be honest about how much you can afford to invest in terms of your stake in your new company and be clear about this with your more senior investors.
What do you enjoy most about your role as a Chairman or non-executive?
I really enjoy the varied nature of my working week – be it attending a Board meeting, chairing an Audit Committee or working in support of the executives on a particular project, problem or initiative. I get particular satisfaction from realising that my opinion is valued by a wide variety of colleagues – private equity partners, senior executives, fellow shareholders. I also enjoy the challenge of looking for further non-executive positions. You meet really interesting people working with great businesses. The whole process of securing the next role is really motivating.
What are your biggest frustrations as a non-executive?
Truth be told, I don’t feel too many frustrations, perhaps because the decision to move away from a full-time, executive role centred exclusively in one business was very much my own. That said, I do sometimes miss the day-to-day “buzz” of travelling each day to a company where I can engage with fellow staff. I also sometimes have withdrawal symptoms when I see the executives immersing themselves fully in a particular issue and I really want to “roll my sleeves up” and get involved.
What do you see as the key skills required for any chairman of a private equity backed business?
Good non-executives have to be extremely well rounded in order to successfully fulfil the tasks and duties expected of them. Aside from the “formal” obligations of ensuring that there is appropriate governance in place within the company; satisfying themselves that there are systems in place which deliver financial control and robustness; having confidence that there is a well thought through strategy and that the executives are clear that the resources and operations can meet the strategy, the non-exec must also act as a communicator – often bridging the gap between the investor’s expectations and the company’s ability to deliver. Very often the PE backer will look to the Chairman to validate the opinions and outputs of the executive team and similarly the executives will see the Chairman as a safe haven, where issues can be discussed and aired without exposure to the other shareholders. On occasion, it will be for the Chairman to work with the PE house to address matters of poor performance. In successful companies, the sometimes divergent goals of the different stakeholders are reconciled and blended and this task is often centred upon the input of the Chairman.
What tips do you have for any business owner considering the sale of their business?
I have been through a number of exit processes. Timing is everything. Secondly, ensure the management team are committed to a growth plan. Finally, there are lots of housekeeping issues that can be sorted well in advance. My overriding advice is plan ahead to achieve a successful sale.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I endeavour to keep reasonably fit through jogging, cycling and overly enthusiastic gardening. I am a latter-day convert to skiing which I really enjoy and wish I had taken up years ago. To balance the fitness thing, I enjoy entertaining friends over dinner.