Finding your first Non-Exec role. Patience is a virtue!

Finding your first non-executive director role

Patience, we’re often told, is a virtue. Thomas Carlyle once said:

“Endurance is patience concentrated.”

So, here’s a question to test how patient you are.

What is it that no man wants to have, but no man wants to lose?

The answer’s at the end of this article. Now, if you’re truly patient, you’ll refrain from looking at the answer until you’ve read the rest of this article.

So what have patience and endurance got to do with those who are actively seeking a Non-Executive role? For the many potential non-execs out there, searching for their first NED appointment, there’s the danger of frustration, impatience, creeping in when they are told that clients would prefer them already to have a NED appointment under their belt when they come to join their business in an NED capacity.

So in order to become a non-exec you first need experience.

And in order to gain experience you need to become a non-exec.

Chicken and egg? Catch-22?

A frustrating conundrum.

Well, there is an answer. Just as there’s an answer to the puzzling riddle above [for those of you who have shown tremendous patience in not looking!]. In order to break into the hallowed NED world, it’s worth considering taking on an unpaid or pro-bono appointment in the first instance. Although such an appointment wouldn’t carry any financial rewards, it would of course bring other benefits:

  • the opportunity to familiarise yourself with how the process works;
  • the formality of monthly Board meetings;
  • the typical issues arising and the input required from the NED;
  • the chance to bring your own experience/contact list/advice to the table;
  • the creation of a portfolio of experience.

A lot of un-paid NED roles exist within the voluntary or public sectors where there is great demand for commercial directors from the private sector to take on a Non-exec role and add value to the organisation. It’s a rich field of opportunity for NEDs eager to take up roles that will help build their portfolio of experience. It just needs a patient and considered approach to building up that experience.

So that’s one conundrum resolved: how to gain experience when you can’t get experience.

Here’s another one resolved:

[Answer: A lawsuit.]


Ian Wright, CEO

Ian Wright is the Founder and CEO of and has worked with 100s of companies to appoint non-executives and chairs.  He sits on the boards of three privately held companies as non-executive and was previously non-executive Chairman of a business that recently sold to a trade buyer.  Ian has built multiple businesses that have gone on to sell to private equity.

VirtualNonExecs is a membership network and all members receive consultations with Ian personally.  He works with all members to craft the perfect non-executive director CV.

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