May 30, 2017 /

Boards Fit for the Future – Building the Pipeline

Fidelio is committed to building Boards fit for the future. Given the level of disruption and uncertainty facing corporate and non-profit Boards, it is evident that a broader range of skills is required in the Boardroom. Tomorrow’s successful Boards will necessarily look different from today. To achieve this we need increasingly varied routes to the Boardroom, as well as a more substantial and diverse pipeline. In this Overture, we highlight two recent Fidelio initiatives with Harvard Business School Club of London and the German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce to ensure diverse and highly effective Boards for tomorrow.

“Securing the First (Corporate) Board Role” with Harvard Business School Club of London

In March 2017, Fidelio hosted its second seminar with the Harvard Business School (HBS) Club of London. The HBS Club of London has a vibrant membership of different ages and covers a range of sectors. Alumni are characterised by a strong entrepreneurial streak combined with a growing interest in adding value at Board level. As such we were pleased to design a seminar on “Securing the First (Corporate) Board Role” to map key steps to the top table.

Our panellists comprised highly experienced Non-Executive Directors and Chairmen from a range of sectors and backgrounds:

  • Vindi Banga, Senior Independent Director, Marks & Spencer and GlaxoSmithKline; Chairman, Mauser GMBH
  • Geeta Gopalan, Non-Executive Director, Virgin Money, Wizink Bank S.A., Ultra Electronics Holdings Plc and Vocalink; Vice Chairman, England Committee, Big Lottery Fund
  • Carol Bell, Senior Non-Executive Director, Ophir-Energy;  Non-Executive Director, PGS, Bonheur ASA and BlackRock Commodities Income Investment Trust plc
  • Cyrus Ardalan, Chairman, OakNorth  Bank; Board Member, International Financing Facility for Immunisation
  • Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, Head of Board Practice, Fidelio Partner, Moderator

For the 100-plus strong audience of HBS Alumni in attendance, Fidelio set the scene. We highlighted the value of diverse Boards but also flagged some of the impediments facing those looking to secure the first Board role. For example, recent research has demonstrated the relatively small number of new Directors without prior quoted Board experience who are appointed to the FTSE 150 each year.

Equally FTSE 100 companies are increasingly likely to appoint a CFO with prior FTSE 100 CFO experience rather than developing a pipeline from within. Fidelio also pointed to some of the concerns raised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission about restrictive routes to the Boardroom.

Against this backdrop, the panel drew upon their own career trajectory to the Boardroom, as well as their experience of building Boards and appointing Board Members. They provided the following highly practical advice:

  • Engagement and investment – devote time and energy to becoming an effective Director including gaining experience in governance and also establishing relevant networks
  • Serendipity – be open to opportunities which may arise from any aspect of the previous corporate career
  • Time commitment – ensure that one has the time to invest in the role (often beyond the time commitment on paper!)
  • Interest in the company and the sector – select and respond to opportunities that fit with one’s personal interests and values
  • The ability to be collegiate but also to stand one’s ground – being an effective member of the top team requires “congeniality and grit”
  • Personal narrative – be able to articulate the ‘value add’ and how a Board role fits into that narrative
  • The 5 P’s – Plan, Prepare and Position oneself, be Proactive and show Passion

Fidelio also contributed recommendations from the A Seat at the Table Programme including understanding one’s own value proposition for the Boardroom and ensuring visibility on the radar screen of key decision-makers – principally the Chair, experienced Directors and opinion leaders in the sector.

Young players interrupt the Boardroom musical chairs…

The Independent

This diverse HBS Alumni group, with a strong technology bias, surely represents an important cohort for tomorrow’s Boardroom and Fidelio is pleased to contribute to developing this important pipeline.

“ ‘Die Frauenquote’ – a Year on. An Update on Diversity in UK and German Corporates”

A few weeks later, Fidelio co-hosted a panel discussion reviewing Boardroom diversity in the UK and Germany – identifying practical lessons to be learned from both markets. This was the second annual “Frauenquote” debate co-hosted by Fidelio, Nabarro LLP, the German-British Chamber  of Industry & Commerce and the German British Forum. The event provided an update on both markets, with Germany adopting a quota and the UK encouraging corporates to achieve voluntary targets at Board and Executive level.

To achieve this we welcomed a highly experienced panel of Chairmen, Directors and investors, who brought the UK and German perspectives to this critical topic and addressed an audience of some 60 Directors and advisors:

  • Sir Philip Hampton – Chair of the Hampton-Alexander Review; Chairman of GlaxoSmithKline plc; and Senior Independent Non-Executive Director of Anglo American plc.
  • John Allan – Chair, Tesco plc, Barratt Developments plc and London First; Non-Executive Director, Worldpay Group plc; former CFO of Deutsche Post
  • Elisabeth Lady Stheeman – Supervisory Board Member of Aareal Bank AG and TLG Immobilien AG; Senior Advisor, Bank of England/Prudential Regulation Authority
  • Dr Hans-Christoph Hirt – Executive Director and Head, Hermes EOS
  • Patricia Godfrey – Chair, German British Chamber of Industry & Commerce; Partner, Head of International, Nabarro LLP (now Partner, CMS Legal Services)
  • Monika Schulz-Strelow – President, FidAR  (contributed via an interview)
  • Gillian Karran-Cumberlege, Partner, Fidelio Partners; (Moderator).

The seminar opened with an exploration of progress to date in the UK market with Sir Philip Hampton outlining how the Hampton-Alexander Review has picked up the mantle from the original Davies Review – extending targets to the FTSE 350 while also setting clear goals for the Executive layer. Patricia Godfrey, then provided the German perspective drawing upon an interview with FidAR, a non-partisan initiative in Germany which contributed substantially to the introduction of the “Frauenquote”.

The hardest cultural change for German firms seems to be getting more women on Boards.

The Economist

There was agreement that in both the UK and Germany gender diversity is one aspect of a much broader debate on diversity; increasing female representation is seen as an important step towards diversifying routes to the top table.

The following conclusions were reached by our panel:

  • The Business Case for Diversity – The panel was unanimous that there is a clear business case for greater diversity in the Boardroom and Executive Committee. Much has been written about the value of diverse perspectives in decision-making and the overall outperformance of companies with diverse leadership teams. Hans Hirt was clear, as an investor with a strong governance perspective, that there is also an important ethical dimension to increasing diversity in corporates.
  • Executive Diversity – Representation at the Executive level in both the UK and Germany remains stubbornly low. Our panel and audience focused a major portion of the debate on how to strengthen the Executive pipeline. Speakers emphasised that corporates should focus on reviewing ‘leaky’ sections of the pipeline, determining the cause, and putting in place measures to foster and retain female talent.
  • Moving the Dial – We asked our panellists which single step they would advocate to move the dial on diversity. They responded: (i) a sharp focus on culture and leadership and setting the tone from the top; (ii) setting clear targets and measuring progress; (iii) broadening  talent pools and routes to the Boardroom; (iv) developing female executives; (v) and last but not least: ensuring investors maintain pressure on companies to achieve greater diversity.

This annual panel discussion has become an important forum in promoting Board diversity in the UK and Germany. It achieves this by bringing together business leaders from both markets, providing praise where praise is due, and highlighting where more needs to be done.

This second “Frauenquote” debate in London created a framework for sharing what works and enabling world-class corporates in the UK and Germany to learn from each other in pursuit of a common goal. It represents just one element of Fidelio’s commitment to greater Board diversity in Germany through thought leadership, as well as our core activities of Search, Development, and Evaluation.


Fidelio is skilled at convening business leaders to tackle key Boardroom issues. This was demonstrated by the richness of experience we welcomed to debate “Securing the First (Corporate) Board role “ as well as “ ‘Die Frauenquote– a Year on. An Update on Diversity in UK and German Corporates”. The support of HBS Club of London, as well as the German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce demonstrates the business imperative for strengthening and broadening the pipeline to the Boardroom.

Through Search, Development and Evaluation, Fidelio ensures our clients have access to diverse and highly effective business leaders. Our “A Seat at the Table” programme continues to attract talented senior female executives and Directors from around the world.

Diversity is not achieved by a silver bullet and it is incumbent upon us all – Chairmen, Board Directors, CEOs, Search firms and candidates – to keep strengthening and diversifying the pipeline. Without a doubt this is vital to equip Boards with the skills needed to be fit for the future.

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