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A new era of diversity in the boardroom

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Diversity

Marcus Lorenzo discusses why more and more organisations are actively seeking to widen the talent pool by adding a greater diversity of individuals to the boardroom.


The perennial question between FT500 companies of ‘how’s business?’ may be met in the current economic climate with a rye shake of the head. In recruitment terms, however, the credit crunch is having an interesting impact.

Rather than a freeze or a reduction in investment, the current uncertainty has led to more, rather than less focus on the investment in finding and retaining the right staff, in particular focus on senior level staff.

Over recent months, our work with blue-chip clients has shown that the focus at board level is on adding a broad range of experience to the mix, with a greater diversity of backgrounds and experience than ever before gathering around the boardroom table.

“The focus at board level is on adding a broad range of experience to the mix, with a greater diversity of backgrounds and experience than ever before gathering around the boardroom table.”

It has been the case for many years that executive search firms (certainly the fully retained ones) endeavour to present clients with shortlists that comprise three or four individuals offering the client different options. But now we see clients actively seeking this diversity and our briefs are increasingly requesting individuals that sit well outside the traditional competitor base.

The European HR director for a leading international consultancy confirmed: “It is critical to our business that where appropriate we broaden our pool of potential talent and it undoubtedly helps enrich the quality of the work we deliver to our clients. When combined with our existing experts, this helps us provide more creative and bespoke client centric solutions.”

It is significant that a popular source of talent is FMCG organisations, where individuals have generally had more invested in their learning and development than those coming form less ‘mature’ sectors such as ecommerce. It is equally common for an individual from the automotive industry to move into ebusinesses, or for someone from a manufacturing background to be offered a role in telecoms.

An inspirational culture

We believe the reason for this movement is that clients are keen to bring on board new styles, methodologies and processes, whether to augment their existing leadership team with specific skills or insight which strengthens or refocuses the business, or to help drive the business towards a new and inspirational culture.

The introduction of a fresh approach is particularly important to businesses dealing with change agendas where a strong leader is required to bring best practice in order to implement a new direction.

Since late 2006, we have being working closely with a major global investment bank to source senior directors from within industry rather than the usual banking community. This is for key sector specific leadership roles where certain business groups need to diversify their investments and also where certain groups need to refocus and redefine their operating style.

Individuals who have demonstrable success at board level within the target investment community itself, help provide real insight and depth to the bank when seeking to understand the issues that their targets face. The dynamic of the relationship and ultimately the quality of the investment itself is therefore greatly enhanced.

“We are seeing this pooling of talent taking a global flavour, with several major organisations searching outside of the domestic market to bring international experience to their boardrooms.”

The trend for greater diversity doesn’t seem to stop with new talent entering a business. We have also observed increasing examples of businesses encouraging their key people to move function, both to aid personal development and develop their future leadership skills and to help bring a new skill set to a function or division.

High calibre and commercially astute financial controllers or financial directors are a prime target, especially where a business may have a remote corporate parent or a venture capital or personal equity big brother that requires tight and robust financial management.

This new diversity is not purely functional but can also take on a geographical element. We are seeing this pooling of talent taking a global flavour, with several major organisations searching outside of the domestic market to bring international experience to their boardrooms. This trend is still in its infancy in the UK but is likely to become more prevalent as access to talent becomes easier.

One thing that seems clear is that UK businesses recognise that investment in the right individuals to lead the business is imperative to its success. The difference today is that the right individual may be someone with a much more diverse background than ever before, someone who brings different skills, a fresh approach and a totally new perspective to achieving success. It is this diversity that will put UK plc on a firm footing to grow its presence in the global arena.


Marcus Lorenzo is a director at Highfield Human Solutions

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