Twelve months after registering with the aim of finding her first commercial non-executive role, Sarah MacAulay has taken on two PLC board roles through Nurole. Sarah has over twenty years of investment experience as a fund manager in London and Asia with Baring Asset Management, Eagle Star and Kleinwort Benson Investment Management. In addition to her two PLC board roles, Sarah is a Board Member of the Glendower School Trust.
What is the best professional advice anyone gave you?
Know what the consensus is but don’t be led by it. Sometimes you have to be pragmatic and fit in with the views of your peers but beware letting it change the way you think.
Do you have advice for anyone looking for their first NED role?
Be prepared to persevere. It is likely to take time before you find the right role. First, you have to get plugged in to start hearing about roles. This is a major hurdle in itself: meeting all the right headhunters is a huge effort. Of the roles you hear about, only a few will match your expertise and interests. For these few roles be prepared for serious competition from other excellent candidates.
Do you have advice for anyone preparing for their first NED interview?
Advance preparation is key. Understand why you want the role and what you can offer. Research the specific company and other members of the board so you know how your skill set might be complementary. Read extensively around the sector. For example, with investment trusts I read all the regulatory newsflow I could get my hands on. Finally, you have to believe in yourself and your ability to contribute to the board.
What advice can you give to those who have been rejected for roles?Accept that you will be rejected - roles are highly sought after. There are a lot of well-qualified, respected people applying. You might be lucky, but understand that rejection is part of the process and that it does not mean you lack the right qualities. It may simply be that someone else was a better fit.
What do you think is the key to being a good NED?
Thinking independently but working as a team. Paying attention to detail but retaining the ability to think strategically. Being a good listener but being prepared to debate. Appreciating the respective skills of your other board members.
What is your greatest mistake as a NED or executive that you think others can learn from?
Thinking you can do everything - learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
How are you working to become a better NED?
Given these are my first two commercial non-executive roles, I need to consolidate and expand my experience. In addition to regular board meetings, I am attending every extra-curricular event I can find (particularly investment trust events) and keeping up with sector news (especially regulatory updates, governance and corporate activism).
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about whether they should take on a non-executive role?
Evaluate why you want to do it. If you don’t feel motivated by the type of work involved (typically it’s long board discussions and extensive reading) and excited by the sector, it’s not for you. Also, be sure you have the time to be fully committed. While boards might say 10-12 days per year, the reality is you may have to invest much more. I spend over 30 days a year on the school Board in which I’m involved.
What is your most effective method for assessing prospective new hires?
Follow up on references. It’s amazing how often people don’t do good background checks. I have had people give referees who were very negative when asked - the individuals were relying on the fact that most people don’t seem to check!
When have you got a hiring decision most wrong and what did you learn?
If you get to the end of a search process and you haven’t found the right person, start again. Taking nobody is better than taking someone who you don’t feel enthusiastic about.
Your Nurole Experience
How did you hear about Nurole?
A Chair told me about it 12 months ago. I was then recommended for a specific role.
What made you sign up?
The biggest hurdle is hearing what opportunities are available. Anything that facilitates that process is a great idea. I had seen a number of headhunters but not much was happening. The Nurole website looked great so, although I didn’t know how productive it would be, I was enthusiastic and prepared to follow it up.
How have you found the experience as a member?
A pretty good experience! I became a member in April 2016 and, after a couple of unsuccessful applications, by November I found myself in the final round for two PLC board roles which ultimately turned into my two board positions. Having to write a very specific application letter helps you self-select - if you are not suitable it quickly becomes apparent.
What made you continue to apply although you were unsuccessful with your initial applications?
I was determined to succeed. I really wanted to take on some non-executive roles which combined my fund management experience with my board experience.
What advice would you have for other members applying through the platform?
Invest serious consideration into your application. Address the required and desired competencies carefully. Be honest with yourself and if you don’t fit all the required and some of the desired you will waste your and the board’s time.
About You: 10 Question Quickfire
Three words the person who has worked most with you would use to characterise you?
Resolute, focused and independent.
Burmese Days, George Orwell.
Eat Tokyo, Notting Hill.
“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”, Victor Hugo.
Sushi and Sashimi!
Professional achievement of which you are most proud?
Selling the Japanese stock market at 38,000.
Role model / mentor?
The most inspirational man in my life has always been my husband. Unfortunately it’s a common issue in our industry but I have never worked for a senior woman. If pushed, I would have to say Elizabeth I, a remarkable woman in an age when men ruled the world!
When does your alarm go off and how many hours do you sleep on average?
Alarm goes off at 7am and I get 7 hours if I’m lucky!
Best idea for a £10,000 investment?
A bet against Scotland leaving the Union (I am a Scot!)