The current holder of the Non-Executive of the Year Award, Chris Fleetwood, is described by David Grailey as “a man with a fierce intellect and one of the ‘go to’ people if you need to discuss your plans for the business”.
The business in this case is an unusual one. David Grailey is chief executive of NCFE, the national qualifications awarding organisation based in Newcastle.
Although NCFE is an educational charity that designs and develops vocational qualifications and awards, it has to complete with multinational organisations like City and Guilds and Pearson who own the FT Group, Penguin Random House and Pearson in education.
NCFE is determined to make their qualifications the most relevant for learners today, so they can achieve their goals. When NCFE were looking for a non-executive director in 2010, Chris Fleetwood’s business experience as chief executive of a FTSE 350 company was an instant plus in his favour. The fact that he had both business acumen and expertise in the IT sector made him a perfect fit on paper.
But what convinced David Grailey was their first meeting.
Grailey said: “When I first met Chris and showed him around the business he immediately understood the benefits that NCFE bring to their customers and learners. Chris recognised from day one that we have to balance great entrepreneurial ambition to move the organisation forward whilst managing the risks in the context of a charity.
“It is not an easy concept and an obvious tension to understand, but Chris gets it.”
Grailey believes that his passion helped convince Fleetwood to take up the non-executive role.
He was clear that not only should Fleetwood be the best person for NCFE, but NCFE should be the right fit for Fleetwood’s priorities. Three years on, Grailey knows they both made the right decision.
Fleetwood’s business experience has help transform the Nominations and Audit committees.
Grailey attributes the success of the transformations, designed to improve governance and processes, to Fleetwood’s exceptional grasp of the issues surrounding fiduciary responsibilities and the management of charity risk in a competitive market.
“Chris was exceptionally helpful when we were looking at succession planning, advising us on the governance and, in doing so, building in additional transparency and independence into the process.
“Over the three years, I have benefitted from his generosity with his time and expertise. He clearly understands our core tenet - that we are a charity - but because we are competing against giants like Pearson, we need to generate a surplus so we can re-invest in NCFE and the sector.
“Our one to one conversations have given me valuable advice and insights around our performance as a business. He really is a very bright guy and good company.”
Part of NCFE’s surplus has been invested in buying an office to secure the long term sustainability of the organisation; again Grailey used his non-executive directors for advice, support and guidance.
“Chris joined us in 2010/11 as we started a period of exceptional organic growth. The last posted company accounts for 2011/12 show revenue of £16.2m and surplus of £6.2m.
“It was Chris’ great entrepreneurial skills and drive that gave us the confidence to push on and pursue this exceptional growth.
“I knew he understood our responsibilities as a charity, but at the same time he helped us trade off the opportunity and risks with the growth opportunity.
“He also contributed to the business plan for an innovative joint venture with Reed Recruitment which is structured to help learners in the Further Education sector to find and get jobs. This has been a great example of Chris and his board colleagues using the charity’s funds to help the sector during tough economic conditions.
“Chris is an ideal non-executive. He brings new skills, asks incisive questions but above all understands the nature of NCFE and, critically, what motivates me and my colleagues.”
The winner of the Non-Executive Director of the YEar Award will be announced at a black tie dinner to be held on Thursday, November 14, at the Newcastle Marriott Hotel, Gosforth Park.
Top Business Executives will also be announced in three sub-regions - Teesside, Tyneside and Northumberland and Durham and Wearside, and there will also be trophies presented for a North East Young Business Person of the Year and a Lifetime Achievement award.
To reserve a table at the awards, or for further information, go to www.thejournal.co.uk/businessexec or contact Lesley Hampson, events manager, on 0191 201 6435 or email firstname.lastname@example.org