As directors of the UK’s boardrooms head to Henley Royal Regatta this weekend (Wed 29 June to Sunday 3 July) an experienced headhunter believes business leaders could learn from the Olympic successes of the rowing world.
Nick Aitchison, recent chairman of Leander Club – the world’s largest and most successful rowing club – is joining Hanson Green, one of the UK’s leading recruiter of non-executive directors on 18 July 2011.
At a time when both the diversity and performance of boards are under increasing scrutiny, Aitchison says: “Fourteen Leander athletes won medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, but only five came through the traditional independent school and university route – many wrongly assume this still characterises rowing. The other medallists had been identified as youngsters through talent identification programmes or recruited as gifted athletes from other sports.
“This could be seen as a blueprint for business. Boards need a very precise view of what ‘talent’ means for their business and then put real effort and imagination into seeking it out. The challenge for boards – and headhunters – is to have an open mind about where to find that talent and innovative ways to recruit it.”
Aitchison spent his earlier career in hands-on management roles, including HP Bulmer plc and Mars and now joins Peter Waine and Barry Dinan, founder directors at Hanson Green. Peter Waine says: “Nick’s breadth of experience both in search and as a director is a perfect complement to our team. Confidence amongst boards is perceptibly but slowly improving and there is now a pent-up demand for new non-execs. Many companies were reluctant to part with their experienced NEDs in the worst stage of the financial crisis.”
Aitchison has 12 years experience in both sides of boardroom recruitment, a rarity in this industry. A former managing director of the global search firm Russell Reynolds he was also a partner at Stork & May, international career advisers for business leaders.
At Stork & May, Aitchison advised the UK’s most senior directors on their careers and says that companies may find fresh talent is more demanding of the boards they join: “In the past, many non-execs have been flattered to be asked to sit on a FTSE board. Those days are past. Good directors look for a strong chairman, evidence that the board is leading the strategy – not just rubber-stamping the executive team’s views, that the board is genuinely independent with rigorous debate and that it has a clear role in risk management and financial oversight.”