Anna Troup has more than two decades’ experience in asset management, investment banking and investment research, including running Legal & General Investment Management’s UK Bespoke Solutions and growing BlueBay AM’s emerging markets business. But it’s the sport and sports roles on her CV that people often want to talk about: Troup, a competitive ‘ultra runner’ in her spare time, was Chair of Oxford University Women’s Boat Club (OUWBC) and on the board of The Boat Race Company, the second-biggest sporting event in London until June 2019. She is now on the Board of Leander Club. Here Troup, who’s also just taken on the Nurole-appointed roles as Board member of T Bailey Fund Services and Aberdeen Diversified Income and Growth Trust plc, discusses combining her own sport and sports’ board roles with a high-flying executive career.
How has Chairing Oxford University Women’s Boat Club affected your corporate career?
I began Chairing OUWBC whilst still pursuing my executive career. It provided me with perspective and the ability to step back. The non-executive role gives you a different viewpoint - you’re not caught up in the everyday detail. I tried to take that knowledge and apply it to my executive role, then at Legal & General Investment Management, and to replicate that sense of “non-executive space, distance and time” to generate better executive decisions.
Chairing a high performance sports club is arguably no different to being part of a corporate board - all the skills and experience are readily transferable to a board role in the corporate world as well as into an executive career. There needs to be the same focus on managing multiple risks, adhering to agreed strategy as well as strategic planning, budgets as well as financial planning, managing multiple stakeholders with different requirements, talent management including recruitment and retention as well as mentoring and developing that talent, and a real focus on good governance.
What skills were most transferable?
Chairing OUWBC has already been useful in informing my NED roles. High-performance sport requires constant tweaks to generate those small improvements (the so-called “marginal gains”) that can be the difference between winning and losing.
In the boardroom, creating a positive, supportively-challenging environment is key to generating the best outcomes. If corporate teams are not comfortable turning over the stones to look for marginal gains, and the executive team don’t utilise the broader perspectives and skill sets of their NEDs, the business has lost an opportunity to positively evolve.
Plus, management teams in sport are often more prepared to try something new or take difficult decisions (almost always based on hard data points), than corporate management teams. This focus on performance, and positive and constant evaluation of performance, from my exposure to high-performance sport, is definitely useful for my corporate NED roles.
What’s governance like in sports boards?I am a Chartered Corporate Secretary and member of [the governance institute] ICSA, which produces excellent guidance for sporting bodies on what good governance should look like. For sports bodies in receipt of U.K. Sport or Sport England funds, there are baseline governance requirements which serve to inform minimum best practice. Just because it’s sport, and a club often with a committee rather than a board, there are still rigorous governance requirements. Understanding and creating a good governance environment is a highly relevant skill that can be transferred to the corporate world.
What's your advice to others considering branching out into management of a sporting/hobby group?
Most roles in sport are unpaid at the committee or board level, so making the commitment requires some level of passion. Funding is usually in short supply, most sports are constantly fundraising or looking for commercial sponsorship - so their boards and committees need to be prepared to roll up their sleeves and play an active role. These are not board positions which require you to only read board papers and turn up to meetings.
That said, being part of something where everyone is passionate makes it a rewarding and fertile learning ground. There is currently a real desire to enhance the diversity of sports boards, with initiatives such as Women on Boards partnering on Sport England's non-executive development programme, which aims "to identify and develop diverse candidates who are 'board ready', with a deep desire to make a difference in sport.
My advice is, get involved either as a subcommittee member or committee/board member to begin with. The time commitment is more manageable and you can see if it is an environment where you could thrive. Taking on a Chair role can be an almost full-time commitment, particularly when anything out of the ordinary needs to be managed.
Is it a good route into a portfolio NED career?
My personal view is yes - a sports board provides a fully transferable skill set to corporate life. In addition, given most sports bodies are constantly fundraising either via commercial avenues or via endowments and charitable donations sports boards also provide exposure to skills relevant to charity boards and the boards of other non-profits.
You've spent more than 20 years working in financial services, has the OUWBC side been more of a contrast or had similarities?
A key overlap between financial services and being involved in OUWBC has been the mentoring of high performing talent. Many high performing individuals push themselves to a point where their performance starts to suffer. They seek perfection and whilst that can, to a point, generate positive outcomes it can also be negative and/or detrimental for themselves and for other individuals in their teams. Having the processes in place to ensure everyone has the right resources and support to perform to their best was one key area where the two roles fed into each other.
Many financial services professionals continue to perform sport at a high level alongside their executive careers - indeed I’m still racing competitively as an ultra runner. Having the time to focus on my own sport was one of the drivers for me of pursuing a non-executive career and I learn something relevant for my professional career almost every time I race.
What are the biggest issues in financial compliance now - and how can NEDs help?
The new Senior Managers Regime and Value Assessment are both forcing organisational change. NEDs need to help their executive teams see these changes as an opportunity. They are creating an additional workload but also set up the environment for a thorough “spring clean” and ensure internal controls and processes are up to date and fit for purpose. SMR is going to give senior management clear accountability and the responsibility to set the tone and culture from the top. It’s an exciting step forward for these individuals. It is forcing teams to consider where responsibility sits and how responsibility is delegated and then how performance is measured against clearly defined roles and standards.
NEDs can help their exec teams execute these positive regulatory changes by assisting with prioritisation and considering what other initiatives are time-critical and which can wait to ensure exec teams have the time to embed these changes rather than paying them “lip service” and just “ticking the box”.
In asset management, what do you think the biggest challenges are and what changes do you think are urgently required?
For me, the biggest challenge and change is implementing up to date technology. Many asset managers are operating using technology that is barely fit for purpose. As fees come down, costs need to come down too, so investing in technology that is more than a “sticking plaster” needs to be the focus and particularly as it is what clients now expect.
The two other urgent changes that I think are required are:
- making the cultural shift towards embracing diversity, not just talking about embracing diversity, but creating the right environment for diversity to flourish; and
- recognising that people management is a key skill in itself and great money managers are not necessarily excellent people managers.
How did you find the Nurole experience?
Initially the Nurole experience was bruising - its platform attracts the best and brightest talent, competition for Nurole roles is fierce and I needed to learn how to demonstrate I had the required skills and accept that often I didn’t. But I also felt the Nurole experience was transparent and “fair”. When I was rejected I could see why I was rejected. It was a level playing field which didn’t require a network built over many years. For someone new to the non-executive world this has allowed me to find roles with excellent organisations that I would not have been able to access in a world pre-Nurole.
The concise nature of each application requires detailed thought and time, and being chosen as a result of Nurole’s very competitive process makes me feel confident that the board wanted me and there is a good cultural fit.
And now for some quick-fire Questions…
The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters.
‘If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.’ Henry Ford.
Running in the mountains either in the Lake District or in the Alps.
What do you do to have fun?
Race 100-mile trail or mountain ultra marathons.
When does your alarm go off and how much sleep do you get?
If I get eight hours’ sleep then I wake without needing an alarm. When I’m training hard I need to make sure I get an average of eight hours.
If you are looking for senior executive and non-executive director roles, Nurole's innovative recruitment platform can help.