Moon Consulting talk to Mark Bennett about his career, how he became a NED for Fidelius and what makes a good NED.
Tell me a little bit about your career and what led you to your current role at EY?
I was with HSBC for 38 years. For the last 12 years I was head of corporate banking for West & Wales region which, as well as managing a team, involved meeting with clients and making a commercial and corporate assessment of their businesses. This gave me exposure to many senior executives across quoted, unquoted, owner managed and private businesses. You get to understand their business and the market they operate in. It was a great grounding for the broader work I’ve undertaken since I left HSBC.
When I retired from HSBC, I wasn’t at the stage where I wanted to hang my boots up, but neither was I at the stage where I wanted to go straight back into a full-time role.
The Relationship Director role at EY was attractive because it was flexible, they have a great reputation, great people, and it gave me the opportunity to sit on the other side of the desk. I could help businesses achieve their growth and aspirations.
What made you want to become a NED?
I hadn’t considered becoming a non-executive director until I was approached by Moon Consulting. I thought that by going down the NED route I’d be putting all my eggs in one basket and felt that the EY opportunity was probably more appropriate, because I would still work with a variety of businesses.
However, when approached by Moon to look at the Fidelius NED role, I did reconsider my assumptions. The timing was right, and I realised that a NED role can give you more influence, you can impact the future direction, the strategy and the way the business succeeds, which is really satisfying.
For a NED, what makes the Company the right Company?
It’s the people, the people, the people!
My due diligence process for Fidelius involved meeting as many people as I could and to undertake as much research about the business and their market as I could. I didn’t want to join a business that was just going to tread water, I wanted one that had ambition, a great reputation, and cared about all its stakeholders.
In all the conversations I had, Fidelius felt like it had the right ethos and was on a very progressive, sustainable growth profile. That is why I ended up there.
How does being a NED differ from other roles?
NED’s have a wide range of responsibilities including governance and risk management. For example, the quoted companies’ alliance has just come out with new guidelines which I read from head to toe because you need to be aware of and understand the direction of change.
But when you become a NED you don’t have executive responsibility, it’s all about sowing the seed, obtaining consensus, using matrix management and edging everyone along in the right direction.
The test as a NED should be - how did you set this up, how did you do that – it’s the next line of intuitive questioning that you are testing. You’ll know because of your experience that they haven’t just said it’s a procedure and that they’ve actually done something about it. It is not just a tick box exercise, it has to be embedded in the culture and how the business operates.
What do you think makes you a good business leader?
You have to listen and be people orientated. People are your clients – they are who you work for, they are the shareholders, they are the wider environment and you have to be prepared to listen.
We are seeing a rise in popularism. The whole environment is changing and the means of communication are changing. Social media is changing things and the impact it can have on a business overnight.
What advice would you give to businesses wanting to future proof themselves against Brexit?
I suspect the negotiation will go to the wire, there won’t be as clearer picture as we would wish and at the end of the day there will be further uncertainty.
My personal view is that you have to remain flexible – you’ve got to have a Plan A and a Plan B. You need to understand the impact on your clients and your suppliers, it’s very much about supply chain management.
Assuming you’re importing products through the EU and there are going to be either delays or tariffs. Tariffs are going to put the price up; can you pass those on? Whereas delays are probably even more of an issue, how can you mitigate these?
Do you need to increase your stock levels? If your inventory increases how does that impact your working capital? Do you have space for holding more stock? You have to be able to work through the implications and understand them.
So, be aware of Brexit, do the modelling, have a Plan A and B, and understand all the dynamics of your business, your supply chain and your clients.
Do you have any advice that you would pass onto a newly appointed Company Director?
Meet the people and understand the people. Understand the business and the environment it operates in. Understand the business model so you know it inside out and don’t be afraid to ask silly questions. Keep researching and never assume anything, just keep asking.
Here at Moon Consulting, we regularly get asked for expert advice and guidance on the Non-Executive marketplace, as well working with Executives seeking either their first NED role or seeking to extend their portfolio.
For further information on how we can help you secure your next non-executive role, or to find out more about the non-executive talent that we currently represent, click here or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.