Russ Cummings is the Chairman of Lignia Wood Company, a business that takes FSC-certified softwood and, via a manufacturing process, modifies it into a versatile wood with performance of hardwoods. He is also a Non-Executive Director at British Patient Capital, a wholly-owned commercial subsidiary of British Business Bank plc, the UK government’s economic development bank. Prior to this, he worked mainly in venture capital both as an Executive Director (including CEO) and as a NED on the boards of companies he was investing in.
Until recently, you were a CEO - what’s it like moving to NED roles?
After Touchstone Innovations Plc, I was looking for my next challenge and wanted to refresh and invigorate myself. I felt that I could do that best by Chairing companies where I could support and coach the chief executive or management team. Because I’ve been a CEO, I know when the Chief Executive needs the support from their Chairman to give them some backbone, or when they need some quiet council to reflect.
What advice would you give someone looking for their first Non-Executive role?
It’s a tricky transition and I was very fortunate in having the opportunity to become a Non-Executive Director through my venture capital and private equity roles. It’s a harder transition if you’ve been purely Executive. Ideally, you’d have an employer who is kind enough and enlightened enough to enable you to take one or two outside roles in parallel with your Executive career.
You started out as an Engineer at Rolls-Royce International Ltd. Can you tell us how you moved over?
Like many graduate Engineers, I did my engineering training, which I loved, but I was looking at my career. I wondered whether I should perhaps move into accountancy and go up through the cost and management route and then I saw an advert in the Sunday Times at 3i looking for graduates with some industrial experience who wanted work in private equity. That’s how I got in. I stayed with 3i for 16 years as it went from being a generalist Investor to a more specialist Tech Investor.
Do you think the role of NEDs has changed in the last 10-15 years?
I believe the standard has improved enormously and there are all sorts of factors behind this. There’s the drive for improved governance, the fact that private companies aspire to the same level of governance that public companies have and the diversity of boards is far better now.
What do you think is going to define the British economy in the next 10-20 years?
My core area of expertise is science and technology and I’m a massive believer in these and value-added growth in innovative companies. Clearly there are trends around healthcare and we’re only in the foothills of some of the developments in computing, I won’t get into fashionable terms such as artificial intelligence and machine learning because they’re overdone, but I think there’s so much change taking place, and the pace of change is quickening.
How did you hear about Nurole and what prompted you to sign up?
When I was running Touchstone, one of the Independent Non-Executive Directors and I had dinner. I was talking about my next move and she recommended I join Nurole and nominated me. The idea was to complement the flow of opportunities that I was seeing myself, because I’ve maintained close relationships with the investors I’ve worked with over the years. Many roads pointed to the role at Lignia, as I was introduced to the company by both investors and Nurole.
How would you describe Nurole in one sentence?
A complementary resource to add to your personal networks.
Now time for some quick-fire questions...
Do you have a favourite book?
Touching My Father’s Soul by Jamling Tenzing Norgay. The author is the son of Sherpa Tenzing who (along with Sir Edmund Hillary) was one of the first two people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The son climbed Everest just over 30 years later and it’s a brilliant book. love climbing, I love sailing and I love cycling, and it’s pretty challenging to balance all of those activities. Last year I climbed Kilimanjaro with my 21 year old son.
Do I have a favourite quote?
I guess it has to be Einstein’s ‘Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.'
What company do you wish you’d worked for?
I am fascinated by Amazon. Of all the technology companies I think Amazon is a genuinely amazing business. I did a case study on Amazon back when it was just an Online Book Retailer and at that point, I think it was worth more than than the global book market.
Do you have a favourite App?
Strava. If you’re into cycling you’ll know why.
Give me one piece of advice.
If you can, do stuff you enjoy.
How would you invest £100,000?
Can I give you a slightly trivial answer? I would invest it in my beloved football club, Reading FC because they need all the support that they can get right now.
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