“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master” – Ernest Hemingway
I have long held ambitions to one day become a Non-Executive Director (NED) – to be a master in my field and to help build and grow a company. Naturally I jumped at the chance to spend a year as a Board Apprentice, and that’s when I learned what being a NED really means.
What actually is a Board Apprentice?
Board Apprentice is an amazing not-for-profit initiative dedicated to growing a diverse pool of board-ready talent (www.boardapprentice.com). They work with ‘host boards’ globally across various industries to develop tomorrow’s board members. I spent 12 months with The Mercantile Investment Trust plc learning, through observation, the dynamics and workings of a board.
Breaking the mould
I was fortunate enough to be encouraged to apply for the board apprenticeship by one of the board NEDs… but I almost held myself back and didn’t initially apply because I’d fallen into the stereotype trap. We all know the stereotype, typically male on their ‘grey glide’ between retiring from executive life and full retirement.
Surely, I was too young, too early into my career? But having applied, interviewed, and secured the apprenticeship, I learned that my (relative) youth was not a hindrance but was actually my value. I was most often asked by the board members for my generational perspective; I represented the future investor, and with a huge generational wealth shift on the horizon, how to appeal to this audience is at the top of the agenda for most boards.
Board members typically have their ‘domain’ such as risk management, accounting, distribution etc. However, the ‘magic’ happened when they asked questions outside of their areas of expertise. Curiosity led to more openness from the executives, sparked creativity and enabled debate. These moments were when they truly represented the end investor – what questions would the investor ask if they could be in the room?
The road ahead
My NED aspirations are now stronger than ever, and I believe that generational diversity and a different perspective will become increasingly important. I’m now more focused on what skills and experience I need to grow to be able to contribute to a board’s goals and dynamics.
Being a board member is a big commitment, both in time and effort. So much more happens outside the quarterly board meetings than I ever anticipated! Whenever I can realise my board ambitions, it will be for a company/charity I feel passionately about.
I would encourage anyone with board level ambitions on their horizon to apply for the Board Apprentice scheme, and anyone currently on a board to consider becoming a ‘host board’ to both gain value from having a fresh viewpoint, and to contribute to the pipeline of the next generation board members.
Master or apprentice
Board members are masters of their industries; combining expertise, wisdom and intuition gained from impressive and challenging careers. But the best boards are constantly evolving along with, and even ahead of, the industry it is navigating. Staying curious and ever the apprentice is key!
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