Ashcroft was on the board of tech recruiter Harvey Nash for 12 years as its Chief Financial Officer until 2017. Under his watch turnover increased almost four-fold. Previously he was Finance Chief of Training business Mast International, from where he went on to spin out his own executive coaching company through a management buyout. Ashcroft secured his first Non-Executive Director role with training provider Byrne Dean via Nurole. We discuss how that came about, what he thinks of Nurole having worked in the world of recruitment for many years, albeit not as a fee earner, and high pay at the top.
Why should businesses or headhunters use Nurole?
There are an awful lot of bad agencies out there, people who don’t listen to clients’ requirements and don’t feed through relevant candidates. Nurole invites applications as opposed to headhunters who will approach targeted people, who can be people they know, companies they know. It opens the field and eliminates bias.
It’s also a cost-effective process. Other recruiters can charge 33% of the first year package of somebody they place or, if it’s a non-executive appointment, a lot will have a minimum fixed fee, which can be at least twice what a company or a search firm might pay Nurole.
Is Nurole a threat to headhunters?
Harvey Nash do IT contracting, permanent IT recruitment, IT outsourcing and executive search. Social media of all sorts and technology are going to be a great threat to those sort of organisations in the future, particularly executive search. Towards the end of the recruitment process you will always need human intervention, but technology like Nurole makes it cheaper and more efficient to recruit.
How did you find the Nurole experience?
Friends spoke highly of Nurole and they encouraged me to register. I did that on their advice, not expecting anything to come from it. The whole thing worked extremely well; it was efficient and professional. You have a certain number of words that you’re allowed to use to describe why you feel you are suitable when you are applying for the role. It really made me think.
Bryne Dean is your first NED role. Was it a difficult to land?
I had a couple of approaches to be a NED previously. On both occasions the interviews went well but the headhunters turned around and said, ‘we’re not going to take your application forward because you have no prior experience as a NED’. The difficulty is making that first transition. You can’t find a job without experience, yet you also can’t get any experience without a job.
While I was at Harvey Nash we made acquisitions in Sweden and Norway. I was appointed to their boards as a representative of the parent company during earn-out periods. Those amounted to NED positions, so I was able in my application to say I had prior experience.
You were on the main board of Harvey Nash for 12 years, what makes a good NED?
The key is to be a good listener, to be supportive but clearly be independent. Above all, leave your ego at the door. I’ve experienced NEDs trying to be clever, trying to ask the next smart question and sometimes making a fool of themselves. If you have got nothing intelligent to say then shut up.
Also look for a NED who has got good all-round experience and somebody who has worked at companies that have been in challenging situations. In a crisis you want someone who can be calm and supportive. It helps if they have been through crises themselves.
Excessive executive pay has been in the headlines again recently. Is it justified?
In many cases executive remuneration has got out of control despite of the existence of remuneration committees. Executive directors often earn large amounts of money that can be difficult to justify relative to the responsibilities they hold. The argument that companies use is that they need to pay to attract the top talent. In my experience however, there is no shortage of top talent out there.
What seems to be either a virtuous or vicious circle, depending on which side of the fence you’re on, is that remuneration committees look at comparative information, and they feel comfortable with awarding pay based on that comparative information. But if you’ve got all the companies looking to reward their executives in the top quartile that’s only going to move remuneration in one direction – that’s my personal theory.
You spent five years growing your own business. What did you learn from that?
The main thing is being willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty and do what is required. If a lightbulb needed changing I would do it, if the cistern in the loo needed fixing, I would fix it. That is the main difference. You have to be hands-on and never ever say ‘it’s not my job’.
Let’s finish with some quick-fire questions…
Best professional advice you’ve received?
My father said, ‘think about what you can contribute rather than what you can take’.
Your biggest break?
Working for the recruitment group, Michael Page, now known as Page Group Plc. It was the foundation for my career.
What are you reading?
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.
Touching the Void.
I went to California.
How do you wind down?
I live in a beautiful village in the Chilterns. I love walking our border collie.
When did you last cry?
At my mother’s funeral.
What times does your alarm go off?
The cat is my alarm, when he wants food in the morning. He generally wakes me up between 5 and 5.30 am.
How many hours of sleep do you get?
I aim for seven hours.
If you are looking for senior executive and non-executive director roles, Nurole's innovative recruitment platform can help.