Sir Roger Carr

Portfolio NED and winner of the NED Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019

Top 5 qualities which make a good non-executive director

At the awards ceremony of the  2019 NED Awards, Sir Roger Carr gave a marvellous acceptance speech for his NED Lifetime Achievement Award. Sir Roger’s speech was so good that we asked him for his notes, which he kindly shared with us. 

We are delighted to share his wise advice, adapted from his speech, below:

"In these turbulent times, the need for non-executives has never been greater. Having had the privilege of sitting on many boards, in good and not so good times, I am often asked what I think makes for a good non-executive. Here are my top five qualities for non-executives:

1. Have the right motivation

You need to think ‘what can I contribute?’ over ‘what’s in it for me?’ This requires a genuine interest in the business, a desire to add value combined with a willingness to give advice but the tolerance to be ignored. 

Targeting where you add value is critical. You should offer independent judgement on people, clarity of mind on risk management, vision for the future on strategy, focus on succession planning and also be able to offer some help in the day-to-day.

In summary, although you need the skillset to contribute as an individual, you should have the mindset of a team player.


2. Don’t confuse helping with meddling: role confusion is dangerous for everyone

This is the biggest challenge if you are used to an executive role. To help, you have to understand the business; read the papers, visit the sites and engage with the management. Non-executives should abide by some key principles of behaviour: listening more than transmitting; thinking more than doing and advising more than telling. 

The board challenges, advises and encourages. The executives execute. And, at the end of the day, non-executives execute the executive if they continually fail.

3. Have the humility to believe others have something to offer, and the patience to judge if you are right.

The best boards comprise individuals who are sure of themselves but respect colleagues for their contribution. Rushing to judgement is risky, but so is delay in acting on poor performance. Board members should be measured in forming opinions but swift in implementing conclusions.

4. You may have been hired for your experience, but you will be valued most for your character.

As a chairman, I look for those who are authentic in their manner and have the courage to speak truth to power, but the resilience to be rebuffed. Most importantly, board members must have the integrity to know, that despite external pressure, a board must do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do.

5. Increasingly, the focus is on how you make money, not just how much money you make.

This pressure come from shareholders, employees and customers. It considers honestly, integrity and diversity as hallmarks of a good board. These are not optional extras but the heart of the business.

To improve business’s reputation and trust in these areas, the role of the non-executive is key: how we conduct ourselves, present ourselves, govern ourselves and pay ourselves. 

In summary, if capitalism is to thrive, business leaders must be performance driven but values led."