Since its creation, Nurole has been placing the best person for the job in the right role on the boards of companies around the world. Throughout our work we have found that there is a disconnect between those who want to join boards as a first time board director (non-executive director) and those who are actually getting the roles. As part of our aim to diversify the make up of commercial boards this is our guide to how to become a first time board director.

With many thanks to all those who contributed to this guide. To see the full list


Dame Helen Alexander
Chairman of UBM plc, the Port of London Authority (PLA) and Incisive Media. Deputy chairman of esure Group Holdings, non-executive director of Rolls-Royce Group plc, and senior adviser to Bain Capital

Mark Asplin
Chairman of Wilmington plc

John Barton
Chairman of Next, plc Catlin Group Limited and easyJet

Kevin Beeston
Chairman of Taylor Wimpey plc, Domestic & General, Equiniti Group and Partnerships in Care. Non-executive director of IMI plc

Sir Win Bischoff
Chairman of Financial Reporting Council

Bruce Carnegie-Brown
Chairman of Group Plc and Aon UK Ltd and non-executive director of Santander UK Plc

Dame Alison Carnwath
Chairman of Land Securities. Non-executive director at Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, Paccar Inc and The British Library Trust

Gareth Davis
Chairman of Wolseley plc, DS Smith plc and William Hill plc

Ian Davis
Chairman of Rolls Royce, non-executive director at Johnson & Johnson Inc and BP plc, and non-executive board member at the UK Cabinet Office

Nick Ferguson
Chairman of BSkyB and Alta Advisers Limited, and Chairman and Founder of the Kilfinan Group

Simon Fraser
Chairman of Merchants Trust plc and Foreign & Colonial Investment Trust PLC and a non-executive director of Barclays PLC, Barclays Bank PLC, Ashmore Group plc, Fidelity European Values PLC and Fidelity Japanese Values PLC

Anita Frew
Non-executive director and chairman designate of Croda International Plc, senior independent director of IMI plc and non-executive director of Lloyds Banking Group

Debbie Hewitt
Senior independent director at Redrow plc, non-executive director of Mouchel plc, HR Owen plc, Luminar plc, Moss Bros plc, NCC plc and Domestic and General

Michael Higgins
Chairman of Ebiquity plc and the Quoted Companies Alliance. Non-executive director of Plant Health Care plc, Arria NLG plc and Progility plc

Richard Huntingford
Chairman of UTV Media. Non-executive director of Creston plc, Crown Place VCT plc and JPMorgan Mid Cap Investment Trust plc

Penny James
Deputy CFO at Prudential plc, NED at Admiral Group

Sir Laurie Magnus
Chairman of The JP Morgan Income & Capital Trust and English Heritage

Derek Mapp
Chairman of Informa and Salmon Developments plc and Executive Chairman of Imagesound plc

Kathryn Matthews
Chair of Montanaro UK Smaller Companies Trust

Orna Ni-Chionna
Senior independent director at Royal Mail Group, chair of Client Service at Eden McCallum LLP, non-executive director of Saga Plc and deputy chairman of the National Trust

Peter Norris
Chairman of Virgin Group

Anne Pringle
Non-executive director of Ashmore Group

Darren Shapland
Chairman of Poundland Group plc and Maplin Electronics Limited. Non-executive director and Chairman of the Audit Committee of Ladbrokes plc and non-executive director of Wolseley plc

Sybella Stanley
Director Corporate Finance, Reed Elsevier, NED at Merchants Trust

Tim Stevenson
Chairman of Johnson Matthey

Robert Swannell
Chairman of Marks & Spencer

Andrew Sykes
Chairman of Smith & Williamson Holdings Limited, SVG Capital plc and a non-executive director of Record plc

Sir David Verey
Chairman of Sofina

Brian Wallace
Chairman of Travelodge and non executive director of FirstGroup plc

What you need to know

You need to be aware of certain things and be planning your move to a non-executive role before you apply.

What do you need to do as a board director?

  • You need to contribute broadly
  • Challenge the management
  • Supply expertise when something new comes up
  • Knowledge of governance and regulation can be learned following your appointment

How do you find your first board role?

  • Ask your CEO or chairman to recommend you. Nothing is more powerful than for a chairman to hear the recommendation of another chairman
  • Be brave. With boards looking for an increasingly diverse profile there’s never been a better time to apply
  • Applying for a board role is not the same as an executive role. It is not a race where the best person gets the job, but a match where your skills have to marry with between 6 and 16 other people
  • Nurole can help you pinpoint suitable board roles

Applying for the role

  • The old skills still matter: brush up your CV, get your name out there, try to meet the chairmen of the boards
  • Identify what skillset and competencies you can bring to a board
  • Identify a board’s weaknesses and show how your skills can plug those holes
  • Practice areas of work that make a good impression on a board
  • Don’t be shy. If it seems right for you then it probably is. Take it


  • Internal boards within your company have similar frameworks to non-executive boards. Mention and use this experience
  • Join charity boards pro-bono to earn experience. This can also be a good way of getting into other chairmen’s circles

How can Nurole help?

Nurole matches the right people to the right boards

We are committed to increasing the diversity of boards and introducing the right people to the right boards. If there is someone you think we should know about or who is right for a role you have seen please recommend them here.

In my world I get invited to all the networking events linked to insurance but I love the way Nurole gives you access to a much broader range of networks
Penny James, Deputy CFO at Prudential plc, NED at Admiral Group

Nurole’s 2015 Star Chairman Award

Companies with greater diversity on boards perform better and easier access to that diversity is what will increase it. So chairs who take on more first timers are really making a great contribution. Gareth Davis has appointed 10 first time non-executive directors to the boards of Wolseley, DS Smith and William Hill and for this he has won Nurole’s 2015 Star Chairman Award.

I have found that first timers add a great deal to a board’s composition as they are usually currently serving or very recently serving executives and thus they bring contemporary experience to the table along with a strong desire to contribute
Gareth Davis, Chairman of Wolseley plc, DS Smith plc and William Hill plc

How Nurole works for organisations looking to hire exceptional board and senior executive talent.

Chair's advice for board directors

We asked over 25 chairs to give their advice for board directors. Not surprisingly, what they said was varied and wide-ranging. Certain chairmen privileged EQ over IQ while others looked for intelligence over empathy. This might appear to be a conflict that is simply confusing, but in the belief that knowledge is power we have included all the responses. There are certain areas that seem to be resoundingly necessary, notably judgment and commitment. What these comments should do is begin to suggest the type of qualities that you need to have before you consider a position, as well as suggesting that different positions will require different qualities.

Qualities chairs look for when hiring non-executive directors:

  • Independent mindset, collegiate, communication skills
  • Commercial, high EQ, prepared to contribute in discussions
  • Judgment, influencing skills, independence
  • Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, wise
  • Objective, rational, smart
  • Intelligent, integrity, courageous
  • Robust, collegiate, experienced
  • Judgment, collaboration, defined expertise
  • Openness, engagement, communication skills
  • Curiosity, engagement, empathy
  • Bright, supportive, challenging
  • Integrity, insight/analytic ability, persuading and influencing skills
  • Engaged, empathy, pragmatic
  • Industrious, courageous, direct
  • Judgment, willingness to listen, courage
  • Inquiring, robust, collegiate
  • Original thinker, good listener, judgment
  • Conscientious, apolitical, thorough
  • Openness, generosity with knowledge, enthusiasm
  • Experience, integrity, collegiate
  • Committed, interested, emotionally intelligent
  • Unafraid to ask questions - even if they sound stupid
  • Realise that time changes things - yesterday’s answer may be wrong for today
  • Don’t try to be everyone’s friend - but don’t try to show off your toughness either

Advice from chairmen to those looking to take on their first NED role:

  • Understand why you want to become a NED; you may well be asked this in an interview and your answer could be what wins you the role
  • Sell yourself. Be open to a wide range of options, but recognise that you may well be pigeonholed by your past experience initially. Remember that getting a NED position is like any other job search – you have to sell yourself. People won’t find you if you don’t get your message out there
  • Do your homework; what have I got to offer this company? What do I think it needs? What are their challenges and gaps? Be really well prepared by studying the company, its chairman, CEO, SID, and others who will interview you. Look at brokerage reports and, if applicable, rating agency reports and similar (Dun and Bradstreet, etc)
  • The first one is the hardest so don’t be too choosy (while avoiding companies which may damage your credibility); network broadly; make sure you can translate your executive experience into relevant NED skills; be patient
  • Be persistent. Don’t take the first double decker bus that stops for you, unless it's really clear that it is the right one
  • It will take time
  • Take your time and find something you really like, select something that you are clear you can make a difference on
  • Decide which companies really interest you, don’t join a company whose business is of no interest and make sure you trust the Chairman
  • Articulate your style and strengths in CV alongside experience. Have strong references available
  • Often headhunters ask what you’re looking for. Do the job for them: analyse what companies/sectors/businesses would suit you. Dissect the FTSE companies and look for when rotation is upcoming/what skills the board needs. Be as clear as you can about what you can bring to a board. Do your own homework, don’t be complacent, and think about it from the company’s perspective, as well as your own objectives
  • Really play to your strengths. Don’t think you can be a generalist straight away. Trade your specific knowledge to get general experience
  • Get an experienced NED to review your CV - you may be underselling yourself
  • Ensure you are thoroughly inducted into the company

What only Nurole will tell you:

Getting a position on a board is about a cultural fit and your personality is one of the most important parts of how you present yourself. A chairman once told us that a sense of humour was the most important quality for a board member and he’s probably right as this is what you fall back on during a tricky discussion in a board meeting and what you use to move things on.

Our advice is make sure that you write about your personality when you apply for any role. Answer that headhunting stalwart, “How would your colleagues describe you” when you apply.

How to achieve successful mentoring

Getting the right mentor can save you considerable time and effort.

Advice on getting the best out of a mentor:

  • See them regularly; be totally honest
  • “Time”
  • Recognise that they need to change over a period of time as your needs change
  • Respond positively to constructive criticism

Advice on how to be most effective for a mentee:

  • Mentee needs to make time and genuinely want advice
  • Open discussion. Listen and share experience
  • Clarity of objectives, confidentiality, commitment
  • Be clear about goals. Be open. Admit weaknesses and mistakes, Be results oriented
  • If it’s going to work it will be a 2-3 year journey. You need to have a plan and an expectation of what needs to be delivered
  • You have to really care about what your mentee is doing and have a connection with them
  • Clarify roles – what mentor / mentee relationship means, set up regular contact with agenda/objectives
  • Set clear objectives including when the relationship should stop – just too soon is better than just too late
  • Good preparation for first meeting. Honest assessment by both sides as to whether there is a fit. Prepared agendas for following meetings and feedback on result of those meetings
  • It is useful to start by setting expectations clearly, and arranging regular meetings. As a mentor, remember to listen and ask questions, rather than provide answers – unless you are asked for them!
  • Be patient and don’t fall into the trap of reciting your own experiences and suggesting that as the best route. A mentee is there to gently direct and suggest a line of enquiry
  • Invite the most naïve questions

The Chair's advice on how to network

The following is a list of unedited answers chairmen gave to the question "what’s your advice on how best to network?"

  • Roundtable lunches and dinners with headhunters bringing together CEOs and NEDs work very well. A headhunter arranged for me to see a couple of FTSE chairmen which was invaluable
  • Look at businesses / industries you like and have genuine interest in and network at those events - for example, the BRC events are good for retail
  • Spread net widely as possible; follow up all leads however unlikely; narrow down areas of interest as soon as possible
  • Build relationships with a few prominent people who really rate you
  • Get involved in functional organisations and conferences. Take part as a speaker / panelist
  • Don’t overdo it. Chose wisely and make sure you’re visible by asking incisive questions / demonstrating your stardom
  • Drinks parties are less effective than round tables as they lack structure. No harm in having a drink!
  • Make contact with a wide range of people, ask if you can come and see them to ask for their advice. Have a CV ready if they ask for it. Follow up to keep them in touch with what you are doing after a sensible interval
  • Make it clear in the nicest possible way you have put the “For Sale “ sign up. Many recipients of networking are being worked on by many people – make sure that they understand the relevance of your experience and your understanding of how that can be brought to bear around the board table as a non-exec. It is not just about governance and process, as some people claim. Fundamentally it is about adding value – and then understanding how the various aspects of the role and your experience can achieve that
  • Aim for quality not quantity in terms of contacts

What only Nurole will tell you:

As you can see some people value networking more than others. But there are ways of making it more effective. The key to good networking is to perfect the art of moving on so that you don’t waste anyone’s time.

The best networking is one on one. If there’s someone you really value and admire then email them and ask for a meeting.

No amount of networking is going to get you a role if you have a grey personality. Don’t underestimate the importance of good manners. Everyone treats networking as a business skill when it should be about manners.

Make sure that you are meticulous about thank you letters. Your relationship should extend beyond your meeting.

If you are looking for senior executive and non-executive director roles, Nurole's innovative recruitment platform can help.