Many Executives dream of a portfolio career, even attending specially designed courses, paying to qualify and increase their chances of securing a seat at the top table. Yet only a relatively small number manage to create a strong portfolio and become a “Professional Non-Executive Director.”
In this podcast, Dr Sabine Dembkowski (Founder and Managing Partner of Better Boards) discusses non-executive directorship with Ian Murray, Chair of mining companies Jupiter Mines Ltd and Matador Mining Ltd, Non-Executive Director of Black Rock Mining Ltd and Geopacific Resources Limited, as well as Director of Miners Promise Ltd and Miners Promise Australia Ltd. Ian has received prestigious awards including the CEO of the year award.
“Different companies at different stages of development, different geography, different commodities”
Ian relates how he was first appointed as an Executive Director, from where he progressed to CEO and Managing Director, before making the decision o diversify his experience across a number of companies and move to non-executive roles. Ian especially advocates diversity – working with different companies at different stages of development, different geographies, and different commodities.
“Learn to be a jack of all trades and understand what’s required across the full spectrum”
Ian believes the key advice for executive directors is to focus on their current job and building successful careers, becoming better known in their industry, and thus more likely to be sought after for non-executive roles.
“Keep out of the kitchen”
Ian explains that the switch from executive to non-executive director takes discipline because as an executive you roll up your sleeves and get involved “hands on in the kitchen” as it were. As a non-executive, it is essential to always take a step back, remembering the role is to provide guidance and mentor the executive team while keeping your radar operating. If things start to go off track, you can then advise the management team, step in and make changes as soon as possible, before things go badly off track.
What haven’t the management team been telling you?”
Ian feels the role of a non-executive in board meetings is to listen and engage with the updates and presentations from the management team, then to process that information and come up with insightful and probing questions. What hasn’t the management team been telling you? What other information should the non-executives be aware of that hasn’t been presented? Look for the gaps in the information.
“You have to take it seriously; you have to put in the investment”
Ian notes extensive work is required between board meetings reading, researching, engaging with management, asking follow-up questions and issues of clarity, plus undertaking any pieces of work that have been delegated from the board. He estimates that for every board meeting, there are three or four hours of preparation time. He allocates approximately one day per week to a non-executive role, so 50 days a year – and for a Chairman role, two days a week or 100 days a year.
The three top takeaways from our conversation are:
1. Being a non-executive is a career, not a lifestyle, and needs to be taken seriously between board meetings as well as during them.
2. Time commitment is very important, and for every hour of the board meeting, there are additional hours required to prepare to do the job properly.
3. A non-executive is responsible to all shareholders, and the question should always be, “What would shareholders be wanting you to do in this situation?