Q&A with Peter Neal (Head of Strategic Talent, UNW LLP)

Often, the people who helped you start a business are not the same as the people who will help you scale a business. But how do you find people with the right skills and experience to take your business to the next level and what role can non-executive directors play in this?

Peter Neal (Head of Strategic Talent, UNW LLP)We asked Peter Neal (Head of Strategic Talent, UNW LLP) for his thoughts ahead of him appearing on a panel discussion on this subject at Newcastle Scaleup Summit on 23rd November.

Hi Peter, can you please tell us what your role entails?

I am nominally head of a small team of specialist consultants to whom our clients turn to for insightful and discrete introductions to high quality executive and non-executive directors and finance professionals. Essentially, we are here to help organisations build successful boards and ensure they have high quality finance teams.

We work with organisations across the private, social enterprise and charity sectors, and have access to an unrivalled network of talent here in the North East of England. We also design and deliver formal executive search solutions for projects requiring a broader geographical reach and often provide advice on succession planning as well as leadership team assessment and development.

For anyone that doesn’t know, can you please explain what a Non-Executive Director is and what value they can bring to a business?

Technically, a non-executive director is a member of a company’s board of directors who is not part of the executive team. A non-executive director typically does not engage in the day-to-day management of the organisation, but is involved in policy making and planning exercises, and there is no legal distinction between non-executive directors and executive directors.

However, in practice and particularly for scaling-up businesses, non-executive directors are fundamentally ‘outsiders’ to a company, detached from day-to-day operations and valued for their objective insight and role as ‘critical friend’ to founding entrepreneurs. This creates a very different dynamic within their role to that of an executive director and means they can offer a unique perspective on strategic planning, business development, governance, risk management and succession planning, amongst other areas.

Can anyone be a Non-Executive Director? If so, how?

Provided you are experienced, interesting, well-rounded, supportive, intelligent, mature (professionally), entrepreneurial, objective, passionate, challenging and independent of mind. The ability to provide the “benefit of hindsight” that comes from real experience of business is invaluable, particularly to founding entrepreneurs.

How, and for what sort of organisation, depends on what you’ve done and what you can offer. For example, a serial entrepreneur that has built and sold several businesses would be immediately valuable to a first-time founder and is unlikely to be short of opportunities. At the other end of the spectrum, a senior manager in a large, established business might consider taking a non-executive role as the logical next step in their career, and often their employer would be happy for them to get a job as a non-exec on a charity or public sector board so they can get a fresh experience of how boards work in other sectors.

Whatever background you have, never underestimate the importance of networking to identify the right non-executive role. Some roles, especially in the charity and public sector are advertised, but most non-executive roles in private and family businesses are typically filled through referrals and recommendations.

Who (or what) are you most looking forward to at Newcastle Scaleup Summit in November?

I’m looking forward to hearing about the journeys of people who’ve been there and done it, their insights, watch-outs and don’t do’s. You can’t beat a good war story. I’m looking forward to catching up with friends, making new connections, sharing ideas and learning new ways to enhance my own ability to support our SME clients fulfil their potential.

UNW is a leading independent firm of chartered accountants that delivers a wide range of accountancy and business advisory services to its clients. The Strategic Talent team sets itself apart from mainstream recruitment by operating from within an accountancy and business advisory firm, sharing the same principle that runs right throughout UNW; to support our clients long term, offering as much advice and input that is needed.

Find out more

If you’d like to learn more about this subject and how to take your business to the next level, please book your ticket for Newcastle Scaleup Summit on 23rd November by clicking on the button below:


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