When the Non-Executive Director of the Year award was established five years ago, the judges wanted to celebrate the special qualities needed to be a non-executive.
The judges were looking for someone with the ability to make a contribution to organisations - preferably in both the public and private sectors; someone who was able to demonstrate that they had added real value to a business or organisation which would not have developed without their assistance.
Five years on and the criteria remain the same.
Over the years, however, legislation and best practice has brought the duties and responsibilities of directors into a sharper focus, making them more accountable and the decisions they make more transparent.
Today the non-executive director has a duty not just to the shareholders, but also to the wider stakeholders of their company or organisation, such as employees, customers and creditors. They need to keep challenging executives, testing their strategies.
“This year we deliberately looked for a non-executive director who had made a significant contribution to organisations across different sectors and in different types of organisations from charities and public sector organisations as well as public companies,” explained
Andrew Davison, chair of the judges, and partner at Muckle LLP. “We were looking for someone who is able to add value to the organisation, irrespective of the sector.”
The judges were very clear that the winner of the award must have added value to the organisation, whether that value was financial or social. Today’s successful non-executive is not on the board to fill a quota or rubber stamp decisions.
They must bring with them an independent view, a fresh pair of eyes. They need to look beyond the daily operational worries, with helicopter vision to look up and around the environment their business is operating in.
In the five years of the award, the judges have seen the CVs of many non-executive directors. The track records of these people have been impressive, revealing an enviable breadth of skills and experience.
One thing is clear, however. The skills needed to be a good non-executive director are not the same as the skills needed to be a good executive director. A chief executive who is used to directing his or her senior management team may find the transition to influencing, persuading and cajoling a difficult one to make. So someone who was a good chief executive will not necessarily excel in a non-executive role.
Perhaps that is why there was some surprise when David Clipsham was announced as the first winner of this award. His name was not widely known in the North East.
Although based in this region, his executive career was elsewhere in the UK. The 2011 winner was not well known in this region either, but MT Rainey has had a transformative impact on Newcastle-based TH_NK, bringing value to the company and in turn her skills into this region.
The experience of their non-executive directors has helped many organisations survive the difficult economic climate of the last five years. However, non-executive directors are not just there for the bad times. It may be tempting to think that they are a luxury when things are going well. Their contribution can add value in the good times, too.