With decades of experience in investment, including running two top-five European equity businesses and currently Chair of Credit Suisse Asset Management (UK), Robert Lister is very experienced in traditional finance firms. He is also a Non-Executive Director of Investec Wealth & Investment Limited’s Board as well as Chair of Aberdeen Smaller Companies Income Investment Trust, and sits on the board of the Salvation Army International Trust Company as its investment expert. But with his latest board role, as an Independent Director at IntegraFin Holdings, which runs UK investment platform, Transact, for UK financial advisers and their clients, he has moved to the disruptive end of the industry.
After a career in traditional banking/finance firms, what appealed about IntegraFin?
Platforms have been a topic of conversation for a few years at some of my other Boards and so my attention was drawn to the advertised role. On reading it, I thought the role description was very clear and I found that the list of values matched my own and was evidenced by behaviours cited in the Report and Accounts. I liked all the people I met during the interviews and they were consistent in their responses and discussions.
What type of talent do finance NED boards need most?
Through regulation, Board papers have become ever fuller. The ability to receive so much data and process it through non-executive eyes without straying into an executive role is a true talent. I think it is also a talent to be constantly aware of the client in discussions, which tend to focus on the outcome for the company
I think that the real skill of a non-executive is to listen to the various executive conversations on a topic, to highlight the areas of internal disagreement and press for a solution. This requires an ability to listen, the skill to find the nub of a discussion and the character to present the issue without confrontation - but with the will to see it resolved.
I also feel that the talent of trust is essential, but often lacking. A set of Board papers and the discussion around them form part of a chain of previous papers and discussion. The values and culture of the company and its executives have been seen throughout this chain. Treating each meeting as though there was no previous history fosters a greater gulf between executives and non-executives than is good for effective scrutiny.
What made you want to move into a portfolio career/NED roles?
My last executive role was at a firm in which, for most of my time there, had questions over its ownership. By the time I left, my appetite to do another full-time executive job had disappeared.
What do you think are the major challenges facing the giants of the UK finance industry?
I think that the major challenge facing the finance industry is that it has still, eleven years after the last crash, not adjusted its costs to reflect the likely profitability of the sector.
What’s the best professional advice you ever received?
You can’t make sense of the nonsense.
What was your biggest break?
Being rescued from a cul-de-sac managerial role to work with a truly inspiring mentor.
How did you find your Nurole experience?
I found the Nurole experience to be excellent. The role description was clear as were the required skills. The application form asked questions which required evidence of those skills and the selection process was handled efficiently and with good information flow.
What’s your advice to board new-comers?
“Listen.” I struggle to believe that ‘challenge’ is the most suitable word to describe the goal of a non-executive. In sport, a challenge tends to stop something but not necessarily start something else. I think that ‘dialogue’ is a much more creative goal: from Socrates to Freud, dialogue has generated the transformation of ideas, improving and developing them through engagement. True dialogue requires both accurate ‘listening’ and ‘trust’, the two talents which underpin successful non-executive life.
And now for some quick-fire Qs...
What’s your favourite book?
Standard deviation, by Katherine Heiny.
‘It is very difficult to surprise oneself in one’s own mind.’ Adam Phillips Paris Review 208 (p. 42)
St Paul de Vence.
When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?
Around 7 am and seven hours.
When did you last cry?
I do every Boxing Day, when we watch Richard Curtis’ film ‘About Time’, at the moment when Tim realizes that he will never be able to see his father again.
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