Professor Andrew Kakabadse of Henley argues that Boards of corporates should consider appointing current and former firmwide leaders from advisory firms as their NEDs as the sector’s default collegiate ‘challenge & support’ leadership style means that NEDs from this source are more likely to ask the right questions, address the right issues, and select the right executives to implement the agreed strategy.
Firmwide leader experience covers much more than leadership style: it indicates an independent mindset; peer-based trust in leadership capability; influencing skills; sometimes high EQ quotients; a keen understanding of how to manage complexity; and a broad perspective on a wide range of issues.
However, there is a public perception that the leaders of advisory firms have it easy due to their high margins and that the skills of running an advisory firm are difficult to translate into the business world. As a result, these unsung heroes seldom get a mention when NED nomination committees are trawling personal networks, drafting job board ads or instructing recruiters.
Most advisers also believe that they will have an easy path to NED appointments. They are in for a rude awakening as most Board members see advisers as excessively prudent and risk adverse, with a tendency to focus on the minutiae. Firmwide leaders do have some potential to differentiate themselves from these perceived shortcomings on the basis they have a different role.
How individuals present themselves in their CV is also critical. Rather than focusing on their skills and attributes (strategy, governance, risk etc), firmwide leaders often come across as a one-track pony in terms of the firm that they lead.