Securing an Executive Seat on the Board

Securing an Executive Seat on the Board

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth

Whatever your current leadership role or stage of life, becoming a board member can be one of the best ways to turbo-charge your career and personal and professional development.

Harvard Business Review research found that serving on a board increases an executive’s chances of becoming CEO to an S&P 500 firm by 44% and boosts pay by 13% regardless of any promotions.

So how does a modern-day boardroom work and who should be looking for a place on it and why?


Functions of a board:

A board of directors is the independent governing body of an organisation which traditionally supports senior leadership in ensuring the company is:

  • Adhering to compliance and governance regulations.
  • Helping to shape and implement strategic, financial and value-led objectives.
  • Representing stakeholders including employees, partners, customers and, in the case of publicly-traded companies, shareholders.
  • Setting appropriate dividends or share buybacks  (in the case of publicly-traded companies) and CEO and Board remuneration.
  • Identifying, assessing and reducing risks including cyber-security, reputational and fraud risk exposure;
  • Ensuring the company maintains a suitable risk-reward ratio.
  • Ensuring functionality of the board and preparing CEO succession plans.

In addition to these focus areas, today’s boards are also expected to encourage visionary thinking, creativity, innovation and future-proofing – especially in respect of emerging technologies and resultant new business models, as well as often being required to have a visible public presence which represents company values and actively promotes the brand.

Members can be executive – working within the organisation – or non-executive (NEDS), independent, external. Both have equally important but different roles to play.

While executive members still tend to overwhelmingly hold traditional C-suite roles – CEO, CFO, COO –  recent Rialto research into publicly-advertised UK executive positions show an increasing variation of more than 50 C-suite roles to reflect the changing landscape of work, such as chief information officer, chief data officer, chief automation officer and chief sustainability officer.


Who can/should join a board?

Literary and dramatic depictions of boardrooms tend to show the type of sycophancy and fear inspired by growling, sweary Roy Logan at the head of the family-run media multinational in award-winning TV drama Succession.

The untouchable patriarch is a trope oft-repeated in fiction for a reason – once upon a time, this was how big business was run.

However, in 2024, organisations cannot afford to model themselves around authoritarian CEOs who stand atop a fortress-like hierarchy, bullying senior leadership into submissive head-nodding and discouraging any dissent.

As businesses recognise the tangible, measurable benefits and commercial necessity of cultivating a genuine ethos of diversity, equality and inclusion from the top down, priorities of the board room are changing and their memberships with them. They should encourage collaboration, a safe space for generation of new ideas and healthy interrogation of all aspects of the business strategy from a multitude of perspectives and knowledge bases.

The UK government and European Union have focused on encouraging listed companies to increase boardroom representation of women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds on boards.

The EU Women on Boards Directive, which will also apply in the UK, has introduced a mid-2026 deadline for all stock-listed companies to have at least 40% female executive representation and at least 33% in all senior roles including non-executive directors and directors such as CEO and COO. However, more men than women were recruited to boards last year across Europe. In the UK, boards of FTSE 350 must set targets for BAME representation by 2027.

While there is still a long way to go before equality and parity are achieved across the economy, not just in listed companies, many progressive organisations are actively recruiting outside of their traditional talent hunting grounds.

This is opening opportunities for individuals from different backgrounds and on diverse career paths to gain a seat and reap all the practical, financial and self-improvement advantages this can bring.

Research has found diverse boards perform better. Fortune 500 companies with higher proportions of women outperform competitors in ROI and sales, for example.  Having a diverse board also attracts the best talent from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the urgency with which all organisations need to be evolving around emerging and disruptive technologies should be driving them to bolster boards with appropriate skills and expertise, including softer skills such as creativity, adaptability, mental agility and logic and reason.

As long as you have a strong, valuable and relevant value proposition to offer – whether it is a specific skill set, particularly those mentioned above, experience, contacts, influence or even just your time and energy – you can make a valuable contribution to a board as an executive director.


Benefits of seeking a board seat?

They include:

  • Invaluable networking opportunities; spread influence and open doors.
  • Working alongside great thinkers and business leaders from whom you can learn (and in some instances, you may also learn from directors who serve as examples of what not to do).
  • Further development and refinement of leadership skills and expertise.
  • Increased confidence in your capacity to contribute, negotiate and drive positive management change.
  • Enhancement of your CV, proven to facilitate promotion and increased remuneration in your primary professional role.
  • Signalling credibility and value to potential clients, employers, partners, and customers.
  • Building market and industry knowledge.
  • Gain a deep understanding of every facet of business development, management and each function within an organisation.

Naturally, the more thought, preparation, and research you invest in your position, the greater the rewards you’ll reap.


How to work towards securing a seat on the board:

If you want to win a seat in your current organisation, it can be difficult to predict when an appropriate opening is likely to present itself.  Good governance says no member should serve more than nine years which can help you plan ahead for a future position.

Do review the current make-up of the board in your existing organisation in relation to your current management role

  • Does it already have representation in your field of expertise?
  • Determine when the incumbent in that area is likely to step down after completing their nine-year term.
  • Evaluate your willingness to wait for that duration.

If you are happy to wait, start to prepare by elevating your profile within the company through impactful contributions and on appropriate digital platforms. (See our previous insight on this for more detail.)  Attend networking events online and in person, engaging with questions that highlight your knowledge and interest. Investigate how current board members were elevated and plan your strategy accordingly.

If the current incumbent in the position you would like is approaching the end of their term, would you feel comfortable asking them for guidance and advice?

If you decide you cannot wait, is there a niche role you can develop to fill in any gaps in the board? That might be task-specific technological expertise. Perhaps your organisation is looking at AI solutions – are you the person they need on the board? Or can you support the embedding of sustainability models?

If appropriate, do promote and leverage your diversity, equity, and inclusion (EDI) credentials. Boards need more women, people from ethnic minority backgrounds and people who identify as disabled or LGBTQ, and not just to make up numbers. There is a proven business case.

You may decide that your current organisation is not the right place in which to seek an executive board role, in which case, think carefully about your options.

It could be a good time for a re-pivot into a more forward-looking sector which will prosper as operating models evolve and disruptive technologies revolutionise the world of work. Upskill if necessary and explore opportunities in sectors that are thriving amid industry transformations.  Taking your personal area of expertise to a start-up could develop your knowledge and professional network and possibly open opportunities to get an executive director’s role in a company which is on a growth trajectory.

Executive career consultants can also help you re-position yourself for a change of direction.


Expanding your Executive profile:

If you already have a boardroom seat in your current organisation, you can seek to extend your portfolio through further networking and personal brand development and visibility, leveraging your existing position and highlighting your exclusive skill set and expertise and its relevance to your target sector.

If your value can be seen, on LinkedIn, in business media and at conferences and networking events, for example, there is every chance you will be headhunted.

Having several positions can boost your salary significantly. The average NED position paid around £40,000 in 2022. In return, you are required to prepare for and attend board meetings, usually quarterly, and to stay on top of organisational and relevant external developments to enhance your contribution.

For more information, see our insight on how to gain a NED position.

The Rialto career consultancy team have helped 7,000+ senior level Executive & C-suite clients win prime roles in competitive markets in almost every country around the world. Contact us for a free initial consultation.

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