Dr Alison Vincent: Building an Effective Board

You know a great board can play a significant role in building a successful company but how can you build one that brings you value? Great board members are an expensive resource and understanding how to ensure they bring you the most value is a critical part of making your business a success. How can you choose, find and work with the people that can take your company to the next level?

Alison discusses how you can build and manage an effective board for your business. She shares her experience as an executive and board adviser to help you identify the right people, what you should expect from them and how you can use them most effectively. She also discusses how you know when you need to change your board as your company evolves.

Slides

Want more of these insightful talks?

At BoS we run events and publish highly-valued content for anyone building, running, or scaling a SaaS or software business.

Sign up for a weekly dose of latest actionable and useful content.


Unsubscribe any time. We will never sell your email address. It is yours.

Transcript

Alison Vincent 

Main difference between me speaking here, back in 2016 is now I’m old. And I have to use glasses. So I’ll do the teacher look. So hopefully that’s okay. But I’m actually thrilled to be part of the Business of Software conference again. And this slot, I want to talk to you about building an effective board. Happy for you to follow me on Twitter, and we can keep the conversation going after the event. So what we cover, I want to share with you a handful of examples of technical advisory positions that I’ve been doing over the past few years. And for each look at some key questions to to help you. And then hopefully highlight some common themes, which hopefully is some kind of checklist that you can use when you’re trying to assess an advisor for your own business. And then finally, look to the future as you head ultimately to listing or selling your business.

What will you need on your board? And how will that makeup have to change in terms of people that you use. So as you sit and listen and think, think about where you are on your own journey, and which example of this companies that I’ll share with you suits you best. As I said, ultimately, you may sell or list your business, and the people you’ve built around you over the years can help make that difference. So as I said, great to be invited back after many years of absence.

As Mark mentioned, the last time I spoke, I was the Chief Technology Officer at Cisco. But since then, I was the global CISO, the Chief Information Security Officer for HSBC. But I’ve now transitioned into what they call a portfolio career. And the things I’ll share with you today are the lessons that I’ve learned being on both sides of that table. In my executive career, I presented to the main board, two risk committees, I chaired technical advisory boards and strategic boards. And on the other side, I’m now a non exec or a Ned for four companies and hold Technical Advisory positions for three more. So being on both sides of that table. Show me sometimes it’s this huge Mind the Gap, this huge communication mismatch between what’s being presented and how it’s received, or how question is asked and how it’s being interpreted. So I want to share with you the best question that I have observed in the boardroom. And this was asked when I was a CSO in HSBC, here we go, many have just watched the latest episode of Mr. Robot. And for those who may not be familiar, Mr. Robot was a US TV series about socially awkward cybersecurity engineer and a hacktivist group. This generated an internal serious response inside me which of course, you can’t voice in the boardroom. But the background to this question, when you thought about it, and step back was actually is this just tv? Or can this stuff really happen? So ultimately, it was an opportunity to educate to educate the board. And with all these things, it’s really useful in the boardroom, certainly when you’re talking to maybe not technical people on the other side of the table, to bring it into a personal story to give them some personal perspective. So my arson went a bit like yes, IoT Internet of Things is a reality.

You’ve probably got home home lighting and heating, you can control remotely, you’ve probably wearing some kind of, you know, fitness tracker on your wrist. You’ve got some kind of voice assistant in your home. So yes, this is not just TV, all these things can be attacked. And so that’s how I answer the question. But there is one question in this room that I think will fill dread. With any partner or husband who is sitting here. You’re about to go out for a nice evening meal. Your partner has put on a new outfit, and is standing in front of the mirror and asks but taking it back to the topic, this talk, this is the kind of question that you want your technical adviser to answer. They need to be your critical friends. You don’t want them to say, oh, everything’s lovely, when it clearly isn’t. So how do you find people who can respond like that? And what can you get them to do? And how do you pay them because they don’t come for free. So I’ll show you four different example companies that I’ve provided technical advisory for I will remove the names to protect the innocent, but I will give you a feel for the relative size, the funding level, and their area of focus to give you a radar of where they are. And then for each company, I’ll work through a set of questions, and then look for some patterns to help you come up with a checklist. So here are the questions that we’ll cover for each company.

Why me? What was it about either my experience or my qualifications? Or who I knew? That made me a good choice? Then what did I do? So I’ll give you some examples of the kind of work you can ask a technical adviser to do for you. How was I compensated, as I said, it doesn’t come for free. But there are a variety of models that you can use based on where you are in your financial journey. And then why did it end Technical Advisory is not just for Christmas, it does have a shelf life. And it’s really important to manage that end of the relationship as well. So let’s kick off with some examples. First example company, a, a very early stage, seed level, in fact, precede level funding. So very, very, very early in their journey. They had five onshore people, and they had 10 People offshore. And it was in the area of FinTech, anti fraud kind of software. So that’s the company. So let’s go through those four questions. And I’ll explain what I did for this company. Why me? Well, I knew the chair. So she knew me, I knew her. And she introduced me to the company.

I had the HSBC seaso experience, which is directly relevant to the anti fraud market. And I also had offshore r&d experience. What did I do? Well, quite frankly, I was a name for their investor pitches. But I also helped them review and shape the pitches for their investor meetings. I helped them define a job spec for a CTO that they wanted to hire. And I intended I tended some of the pitches themselves to give them feedback in terms of how they were presenting and coming across. And ultimately, I was an ambassador for their technology. How’s it compensated, I had a consultancy agreement with some kind of daily rate, and an hourly rate fee. And I and there was some promise of some equity. So that’s how that company shapes the compensation. And why did it end? For me, the agreement was far too vague. And for this particular company, the funding wasn’t forthcoming. So quite frankly, they couldn’t afford me and couldn’t pay my fee. So if I look at this example, I probably wasn’t the right match for this company at the time of the of their journey.

That was Company A, company B. In contrast, this company had a very good level of initial funding. And they were going for a series a funding, so it was a very, had a good a good bank balance, good set of customers, good amount of revenue, 40 people it all in, in one location in the UK. And they were in a health tech industry. So let’s look at those questions again. Why me? Again, I’ve met, I’ve met the CEO, the founder, when I was the Chief Technology Officer at Cisco. They they’ve gone into one of our innovation awards, and they had actually won the Innovation Award when they’re a lot smaller. I had Agile software development experience at scale. So that’s something that they were struggling with. And I knew the difference between product sales and solution sales, which is something they wanted me to help with. So what did I do? Quite frankly, I was a sounding board, I helped the co founders to brainstorm, to brainstorm their ideas about a whole host of things, but certainly things like at the time, they were struggling to work out how do you separate software development, product management, product design, both in terms of how you make it work and how you organise it from from an organisation structure. I helped to assess and then mentored their senior technical talent because they weren’t technical and they didn’t know how good or how bad some of the software in their business. I helped me craft a head of product engineering role for them, and then help them interview. I provide the feedback so they already had a very small I’m bored of investors, people with money in the game. And they wanted to understand the state of New Product Development versus the old problem. How do you do a new version of your product? When you’ve already got loads of customers on your current trunk? How do you maintain the current customers while doing new development, they wanted to feel for how well they were doing on that piece of work. And ultimately, I then introduced them to some key talent that I knew for for senior roles that they were trying to fill.

Compensation again, it was a consultancy agreement. This time, it was a reduced daily rate, I was being kind because I liked them, which they promised to match to my standard rate when the next level of funding came through. So that’s something to bear in mind. And why did it end? Well, quite frankly, it hasn’t. They still use my name on their websites. But actually, I haven’t done anything for them from a consultancy point of view for over a year. So quite frankly, this needs to get cleaned up. And it does need to end. company see pre IPO but very well funded. And quite frankly, very successful. Lots of customers 60, staff, onshore 30, offshore, and they’re in the clean tech maritime space. So another very different industry. Let’s look at the questions. Why me? Well, again, I was introduced by the chair, so I was on a board that has a chair and that chair was also the chair of this company. So you can see it’s still a bit about who you know, still, unfortunately, it’s the old girls network. Yeah, it is. Ladies in the room, let’s connect. But ultimately, they wanted help. They wanted to help to create a data strategy that included the cybersecurity angle, because that was key for them to monetize data was key for them for strategy for IPO. So that was a missing gap that they had in terms of what they wanted to do with their product. So what did I do, I was a sounding board, again, for the CEO and the CFO on anything technical because again, they weren’t particularly technically savvy. I also I did help them prepare that data strategy. And then I introduced them to again, key people and potential leaders for new roles to help support that day strategy in terms of implementation. conversation yet again, another consultancy agreement with a daily rate and an hourly rates.

Want more of these insightful talks?

At BoS we run events and publish highly-valued content for anyone building, running, or scaling a SaaS or software business.

Sign up for a weekly dose of latest actionable and useful content.


Unsubscribe any time. We will never sell your email address. It is yours.

This also this particular company also set an expectation of how many days per month they wanted me to do, and a defined commitment for regular monthly reporting, and to whom that was really good to see that that’s a, you should write that down. That’s very important to have that in your agreement. Why did it end? Well, I delivered I delivered the data strategy. And then I also lined up for them a key individual to join the X, the exec team to become the chief data officer or digital transformation officer. I am in the wings for potential board position or IPO. But quite frankly, this this relationship has ended in terms of the agreement. The final company I’ll share with you is Company D.

Again, pretty well funded, they’ve just done a speck on the NASDAQ over 100 employees, but all in the UK. And this is in a quantum crypto tech company. So again, why me? So I come across early versions of this company, when I was the CISO at HSBC. So I’d come across them before. And ultimately, I was a good match for my crypto background with what they were trying to do. What did I do actually very little at first, very little. I review papers, and then reinforced content on social media for them. But eventually it ramped up and now I make commercial introductions to them for in terms of the people on my network. More recently, I joined there, all staff strategy day. And then I went with was on a trade mission to the Nordics. So you can see the variety of things you can get a tech advisor to do with you. conversation was again, this consultancy agreements with a this time it was a monthly retainer and some share options. So different model. Why did the end? Well, it hasn’t. I’m currently advising them on more staff related scaling issues which they’re hitting now, as well as gender diversity in software engineering, and how they encourage more females into their teams. So that’s those the four companies hopefully you’ve seen one that might be a bit like the shape you are or the shape you want to be. So having looked at Those are there some common themes or some best practice that could be highlighted. So let’s take each of those questions in turn. When you look at all those four companies, why me, a lot of the time I was a known quantity, I was either known to the chair, or to one of the founders, or to somebody that they knew. And I encourage you to use your networks, because actually, you need a known quantity, you can’t take the risk on someone who’s got no proven background to you, or you don’t know how they work, or you don’t know how they come across, or you don’t know, if you get on with them in a restaurant or in the bar, you know, you do have to know these people. Ultimately, a lot of the time it was matching experience. So the experience of your advisor has to match the problems or, or the industry or the the situation you’re in as a company.

And quite a lot the time it’s it’s filling a gap, filling a gap in terms of the skills that a founder lacks with technical advisory. So that’s something to bear in mind in terms of how you choose somebody. What did I do, this list could be endless. So there’s the list of things you, you could ask someone to do, you’ve heard some of them in my, in my chat so far, it can just be a name, you might need a name, to get yourself bumped up the interests of investors or VCs, you might want access to their network. So as well as my executive network, I’m a fellow in the BCCI at the Royal Academy of Engineering. So in terms of the extent of people that I’ve got that I can introduce to accompany. So you need someone with a big network. Senior talent strategy is something that you can very much get help with from an advisor. A lot of advisors have been there and done that and know what good or bad looks like in terms of recruitment and retention of senior talent, so they can help you hopefully get that right. You can use your advisor as a sounding board on anything, I would suggest.

But quite frankly, it’s it’s also also useful to have a specialised specific work package that you want them to do. Because then you know when you know when you’ve got a defined output expert reviewer, so they can review papers or marketing materials to help you shape that and get it in the right frame. Ambassador for your product or technology the list can go on. So it’s quite a quite a long list of what you can get them to do. Compensation, daily hours, hourly rates is a common thing. I can chat to you later about what my now and you can get feel for probably the higher level and I can let you know what some of my other advisors charge. So give you a feel for what you need to budget for. Stock options is usually a nice way of getting someone if you can’t do their hourly, or daily fee. But I encourage you to use a legal agreement. And also use an appendix use the appendix to define the list of things you want them to do, rather than keeping it muddled up in in the agreement, because then you can swap and change that appendix for what you need to do as you mature. And also get that definition of unison return on investment from these advisors. So get that definition of what you expect in terms of reporting. To whom and how much in that agreement. Why why did it end is the next one, you know, a good number of my technical advisories have ended.

And this is because your advisor needs to be relevant to the stage of growth of your company. So when do you know if the relationship has actually run its course. You know, I think there’s like three areas one a change of direction. So maybe your company is now doing something very different. And the advisors that you’ve built behind you don’t match either where you’re going or where you want to go. The advisors have done what you wanted them to do. So there’s a specific thing that strategy, staff appraisal of your technical staff, that maybe that’s finished, and that make a good point to end. Or you’ve you’ve plugged that internal talent gap. In other words, you know, you had a gap, which is why you brought the tech advisor in but all of a sudden, you’ve you’ve recruited into that and now you have someone internally who has those technical skills so you don’t need that technical adviser and more. So just encourage you to think about when you can not get rid of but dispose of your your advisor if you don’t need them anymore. So the final topic I want to touch on today is looking into the future. As you head into maybe a listing or wanting to sell or as you grow, your board will need to adapt to enable you to fill maybe more what they call corporate governance obligations, boring but you know, it’s part of running running a successful business and the conversation in the boardroom is going to change significant Only from when you were a startup, it will be very much focused on risk. It’s a risky business. That’s the conversation that the board wants to talk. So that’s the way that you need to move your your conversations. So, there are many different might be teaching some people to suck X. But certainly when I was new in the software industry, I had no visibility of any of this. There are three main different committees that boards use to govern. But there are three key ones the audit, remuneration and nominations. And to fill these committees may require you to have different people involved in your business than what you’ve been working with currently.

Audits, audit looks at all the risks to the company. But a high proportion will be done to deal with financial risks. So you will need someone with experience of Professional Accountancy. Sorry, if I’m insulting any accountants in the room, I’m not an accountant. So I don’t fill this gap. But you will need someone who has got that accountancy qualification. But increasingly, audit also looks at more technology risks, there’ll be looking at business resilience or business continuity. So you probably need someone with with real it. Background In terms of resilience. remuneration, this is committed that you’ve got to get on with really well if you want to be paid.

As it says on the tin, it deals with all aspects of a CEO or CFO or their senior teams compensation, be that salary bonus or long term incentives in terms of share plans. So So again, someone with great experience of HR might be add value to your board here. And then the final one nominations, that’s all about the makeup of the board itself, including recruiting succession planning, evaluating the fact the effectiveness of the board and seeing where the gaps are in how you’re doing. But as we are looking into the future, there’s one topic that is consuming the nominations committees, and I encourage you to keep this on your radar, the diversity angle, which is why I say ladies, come and talk to me afterwards. There are two reports which are in the limelight. First, it’s the Hampton Alexander review, which had the initial recommendation of 30% women on boards. Thankfully, we have made progress. And most companies are hitting that now I say most not all of them. But most of hitting that in the majority of cases. But there’s a sub title there, the footsie women’s leaders report takes it a bit further. And they are highlighting the need is not a target yet, but they’re just highlighting it, the need for a female to hold the one of CEO, COO Chair of your board or your SIDS, your senior independent director. So they’re just saying it’s not good enough just having someone on your board, you need to think about where they sit in your key leadership roles of your company. And quite frankly, many companies are really struggling with that right now. And then the other report there is that the Parker review, which I’m sure, hopefully some people will read. And it’s putting down recommendations for, again, the ethnic makeup of your group of your board. And companies are really struggling with this one, unfortunately.

But it’s for you, it’s as you build your board. And think about advisors. Keep both of these reports in mind, because they may not be totally relevant to you now, but they will be by the time your company is incredibly successful. So I’ve shared with you my experiences of providing technical advisory to a number of companies. Hopefully through those examples, I’ve shown you how to choose an advisor, what you can get them to do, how you can pay for them, and how to decide when it’s time to park company. And finally, look into the future, what you might need to think about, about building a listed board. So it just remains for me to wish you every success as you trying to find those critical friends that you need in your boardroom. Thank you

Mark Littlewood 

Right thank you, Alison. I know that there are gonna be lots of questions is Bill here Bill’s just joined a big ass public company board I know he absolutely loves the my new ti as a reformed operator. He was just telling me what joy is board meeting was yesterday on the phone Yeah, he’s entering big time questions. But Richard?

Want more of these insightful talks?

At BoS we run events and publish highly-valued content for anyone building, running, or scaling a SaaS or software business.

Sign up for a weekly dose of latest actionable and useful content.


Unsubscribe any time. We will never sell your email address. It is yours.

Audience Member 

Allison, thank you for that. Just listening to your presentation, you described it very much as an advisor, rather than a board member. And it didn’t sound like you’d actually joined those boards. Was there a specific reason, you also didn’t touch upon non execs taking a stake. I mean, all of our non execs have a stake in the business where they’ve got skin in the game. And I’ve sit on a few other boards. And in each instance, I’ve been asked to and have invested to show so it’s a slightly more longer term commitment. You spoke about it very much as an ephemeral relationship. And I just wondered how you’d contrast that.

Alison Vincent 

I touched deliberately on the technical advisory side of stuff that I do. I’m also a non exec director on boards. And it’s quite interesting. Not all sets, I’m on boards at different stages. I’m on very small among government cap quangos I’m on AIM listed and I’m a footsie. 250. And when you get to the footsie 50 Actually, they don’t particularly like having people with shares in the game, necessarily some of that some of the stakeholders don’t like that, because they think you’re conflicted in terms of the independent advice you should be giving, because so I’m an independent nerd on these boards. And actually, they want you to be independent from the success of the building, because then you’ll ask the tricky questions. But in terms of the technical advisory boards, for these examples, I showed you, those ones, I didn’t choose to join their board, it was literally just was a, a one off relationship with them.

Because I hope for your Ned rules, do you find the values in the board meeting itself? Or is that sort of more perfunctory in the values in between those board meetings?

Audience Member 

And the leading question that’s very dependent on your chair, if you have a really good chair, and I’ve deliberately chosen companies where I like the chair, you can get the, there is a lot of dull stuff, which you have to do, because you’re doing, you’re providing a corporate governance function, and there’s stuff that you just have to get through. But a good chair will get through that quickly, to allow time for actually the more interesting strategic discussions. So it is it is dependent on the skill of the individual you’ve got leading that function, the time that they encourage you to spend outside of the boardroom. So frequently, a lot of these board meetings, you have a dinner the night before, and actually you get a lot done then with the the relationships you build with the executive team. So actually, is this balance between what you get done in the room, which is dependent on the chair and investing time outside of the boardroom?

Mark Littlewood 

I’m looking forward to Kevin’s talk this afternoon about scaling to $50 billion dollars and beyond. Even more now, Bob.

Audience Member 

I assume that for every one you’ve said yes to you’ve said no to probably 10 or 20. Yeah, right. Correct. So what are the criteria by which you say no, top three, where you’d say, just not a fit for me? What like your personal criteria? Like? How do you think about criteria to say No, for me?

Alison Vincent 

Yes, it’s the same 123 culture, culture, culture, you know, if, if I if I don’t get on with the chair, and the CEO, I’m not touching that business. You know, for me, personally, you can spend not as much as you spend as an exec. But you’re gonna spend a lot of time with these people. And testing out that cultural fit between you and the other members, for me was really important.

Audience Member 

Can you unpack culture, like what are the causal part of that?

Alison Vincent 

So for me, it’s initially a good match. Two things are important to myself. And I’m a huge believer of a company, yes, obviously has to respond to the shareholders, but a company also has to look after their people. Yes. So a team that demonstrates the way they look after their staff is a company that I want to join. Got it. Thank you.

Mark Littlewood 

Other than that, from the other side, if you’re an organisation, you’re a co founder looking to recruit a board. What do you think the red flags that they should be looking out for in terms of the people that are already does sit in on 40 companies as an advisor is probably like an obvious. Yeah, great.

Alison Vincent 

One red flag is overboard in the call that so make sure the person you’re looking at can actually give you the time that you need. I am at the point of I’m saying no to people just because I’ve got full portfolio could because I’m cautious that The people that I deal with, I want to give them the time that they that they deserve. So look at their complete LinkedIn profile, because it might list all these small things that further down actually takes up a lot of their time. So, be aware of overbuilding. And beware of people who maybe don’t have you know that their experience is too dated for what you need, you know, some of their HR personnel, opinions may be back in the 80s, which is not how staff want to work now.

Mark Littlewood 

Reflects Sunday, unfortunately. You talked quite clearly about setting expectations with your advisor, and it’s great idea to write things down. Say, this is what we expect and time commitment cetera. But it’s very safe. And I can see that when people start do that makes things a lot easier. Well, but the legacy you’ve built company, you’ve probably got three or four advisors. How do you get rid of them nicely? Or do you have to get rid of them nicely?

Alison Vincent 

You don’t have to. So this business? Please don’t? Quite frankly, the register work if you tell them to. Thanks very much, but it’s ended. I want to work for someone else now. Yeah, it’s, you have to think of yourself as a founder. It’s your it’s your money. Why continue to pay someone who you don’t think is adding value anymore? They’ve done some fantastic stuff for you. It probably could call them you know, you could name them something different to make them feel special. You could say, oh, we just want you to be an advocate. Yeah, no, not an exercise. We just want you to be an advocate for the thing. But we don’t want you you know, publicly on our web pages, etc. It was I think it was a question about boards.

Audience Member 

Primarily, because the boards are made up of two classes of people, effectively, the execs and the non execs. And executives, private, usually CEO and the CFO. And having watched a number including footsie ones in operation, the prime function of the CFO and CEO is to control information received by the rest of the board, right? So the rest of board likes to sit there being all wise, actually, they’ve been fed the information, so they don’t really know what’s going on. And most of them to be blunt, aren’t interested enough, engaged enough or smart enough to actually find out what’s really going on in the business, the whole thing is kind of and goes to the dinner beforehand, where everything smoothed over and cleaned up nicely. Anyway, having kind of given that totally unbiased view. I mean, is that your view and her I mean, the one I did come across one guy who was actually a good net, and maybe he used to turn up unannounced, at the business, right, I would just walk in, walk around and talk to whoever you wanted. And a lot members of the board didn’t like that, actually, but actually, that’s actually the job of the net is doing the job correctly.

Alison Vincent 

So what’s your experience response to that? Going back to the culture question over there, when I’m when I’m looking at a company, I want the CEO and the chair to say that I can go in at any point in time, I want access to stuff. So so that’s one that you have a conversation with when you went out the recruitment stage, to it’s again, back to the chair. So the chair can ask for? Actually, no, we want three these presentations by two to two levels down in the organisation. That’s the thing. And the most recent change in governance structures in footsies, is they have to have a conference call it employee engagement. Net. So one of the independent needs has a role to speak to the employees without the execs there. So literally, it’s up to you to go and visit the staff to walk around the floors to actually find out what’s going on.

Audience Member 

Thank you, Alison, for sharing your experience on you touched on obviously some perhaps more dated topics that was discussed, but then also some more up and coming topics in the ESG space on governance on diversity. You made the example of gender diversity and ethnic diversity. Are there other areas of diversity that you see kind of being discussed and up and coming?

Alison Vincent 

For example, neuro diversity is quite interesting. So there’s nothing specific in terms of published papers. So these are the probably haven’t cited before, but those are the two that are governing the discussion In diversity in Award, a number of my companies are technology companies. And certainly when I was the CISO, at HSBC neuro diversity in cybersecurity is so well matched in terms of, you know, the people who are just really good at looking patterns, they don’t want to talk to anybody. They just want to do patterns, you know, and so we just just from my exec point of view, we had relationships with neuron neurodiverse consultants to help us cope with that in terms of, so it’s certainly a discussion, but it’s not something that comes up in terms of, you know, specific benchmarks. But certainly that you touched on ESG, that is a huge discussion point in the boardroom, how you can do it without greenwashing. And let’s not, let’s do something real here, rather than just whatever we can write down and make it look nice.

Audience Member 

Ryan, when you were talking about compensation, you mentioned the daily rate or hourly rate. And I’m wondering how does that map to your time and effort because there are cases, for example, where you go in, you might go in cold, and you’re there for the call to be a sounding board for something. But I would imagine that there are other cases where you have to spend some time to think about something, or to talk to other people or to reach out to your network. And I’m just wondering, how does that work kind of map then back to the hourly rate?

Alison Vincent 

Yeah, so that’s where the the reporting comes in. So in terms of how you get your advisor to be really specific about how they spent their time, so they don’t just give you a bill, they say, actually, you asked me to do this piece of work, you know, you actually took this, this hour to speak to x y Zed it took this hour to do you really specific in terms of you know, it may, you may spend a day in the office, but and actually there’s these are the phone calls that you’re making to deliver on that piece of work. So you want honesty and transparency between your advisor in terms of the fee that they’re charging and how they’re spending that time?

Audience Member 

And how you set expectations up front that about how many hours something is going to take? And do you have any difficulty with that.

Alison Vincent 

It’s a negotiation. So So I think it was company company see actually had a specific we expect four days a month from you. And if you do more, or if you think it’s going to be more than let’s have a discussion in that month. So it’s it’s the idea of, you know, set, set a target of what you how much involvement you want from your advisor, and then then show what the the mechanism mechanism is to go for more or less of that. So it’s sometimes quite frankly, sometimes I had to say, I’m travelling, I’m on holiday. So I can’t give you these four days with my other ball commitments. So you have that, that openness and transparency to get the right data back to you.

Mark Littlewood 

Is betting on someone else’s board as an entrepreneur, a useful way of understanding the value of a board within your own organisation, and if so, do you have any thoughts on? At what point you as a CEO entrepreneur should be thinking about making that step? And how do you go about it?

Alison Vincent 

So I encourage people in this room, don’t leave it too late. As I said, boards want relevant experience. They don’t want necessarily all go grey. Sorry, don’t insult anybody in the room. Okay, don’t want really old people with beards in on the table. So don’t leave it too late to think about it. But from my personal experience, here’s here’s me, you know, in my career as an exec, no one ever said no to me, you know, I, I chose where I went, wants to go. As soon as you step over the fence to go into the non exec world, oh, my goodness, you have to have a thick skin, you get rejected so many times, because it is such a competitive space. And I wasn’t used to that. No one says no to me. But it is interesting in terms of the finding a board that wants you in other words, how do you package yourself and what you’ve done in a way that’s attractive to board, and it’s very different. So I have an exact CV, and I’m sure you’re familiar with what those look like. But a board CV is a very different piece of material. It shapes the stuff you’ve done, but in the lens that the board wants to deal with. I can show you some examples if people are interested later, but it’s a very interesting difference. So I encourage you if you’re interested, think about creating a board CV. You know, what is it about your experiences a founder is going to make you incredibly relevant and useful to a board and go from there and use your network to To find opportunities.

Audience Member 

Thank you. How did you stumble into or two? So find your first board. So there’s this organisation called European women on boards, and they just finished their board readiness programme. And I can recommend this to all the women in the room if you’re an even if you’re not in the in the European Union. But then it’s like, okay, how do you how do you get this first appointment? Because every single board by yourself, and I’ve had all those amazing things on boards? And I’m like, Well, not yet.

Want more of these insightful talks?

At BoS we run events and publish highly-valued content for anyone building, running, or scaling a SaaS or software business.

Sign up for a weekly dose of latest actionable and useful content.


Unsubscribe any time. We will never sell your email address. It is yours.

Mark Littlewood 

Just maybe clarify one thing. I’ve known Allison for long enough to know that I don’t think you’ve stumbled into anything you’ve just bought, right.

Alison Vincent 

So I’m, I’m for people in the room. There’s a there’s a UK version of that women on boards. Actually, it’s not just for women. Men can do the courses as well, just to make that clear. It’s called women on boards. But the training courses can be done by the men as well. So let’s make sure let’s get out I know men don’t know everything already. But in terms of how I got the first one, this is the other piece of advice. Don’t overload yourself with charities and pro bono boards. There’s loads of those out there. But that’s how I started. So I started with Southampton University. I’m on the University Council for Southampton. And that’s brilliant. Because you’re not only just get you understand bores you understand the committee’s you begin to get a feel for what it’s like because you might not like it. It’s a very different thing being an executive being a non exec exec, so you can tell people what to do non execs, you just have to suggest and influence and prompt you can’t point as you might want to do. So for me, you know that the exposure of Southampton University made sure I liked the dynamic of a board. But also for me, it also was interesting for Southampton University is doing loads of fantastic stuff. So satisfied my inner geek as well. But you know, in terms of understanding it, understanding how boards work and getting experience that she then can highlight in your board CV for the next position. So maybe maybe one pro bono first and then we’ll draw from there. And sorry, continue the story is networks and school, Southampton University is full filled with Lady this such and such, you know, good connections, and it’s actually through those connections that are then got my second board.

Mark Littlewood 

I’m curious people in the room, people who’ve had a board, or anyone can share something that having someone on the board as an independent advisor or an independent director had an impact on on their business.

Mark Littlewood 

So I know that bill’s gonna just baritone us

Audience Member 

I should have slipped out when I had the moment. And that’s what I just learned to hear. So I did have el sac represented on my board for a short period of time. And they certainly helped bring a higher level of awareness around governance and governance and audit compliance, which is something that we were not really astute as, as scrappy bootstrapped entrepreneurs. So bringing them on was quite helpful on that side. They were also very helpful around global corporate development and corporate strategy, looking at opportunities to acquire or, you know, tighter partnerships with other organisations. And that’s something that they were able to bring that was of higher value than simply just being an investor inside the organisation and joining the board as a result. Enough baritone for you.

Mark Littlewood 

Enough baritone, Steve.

Audience Member 

So forgive me if I’m not going to answer your question. I’m going to sort of flip the other side of the coin, which which is risky of following Mark said in his cynical view, I don’t hold Marc’s view completely. But I worked in a company where the board ultimately didn’t have much power. And the board didn’t have the capability to fire the executive team if they didn’t deliver. And I know that’s kind of a situation where I think is the situation you don’t want to find yourself in. Is that fair?

Alison Vincent 

Yes, very fair. And others. You want that nominations coming? 80 to have real power in terms of checking out that the CEO, the CFO doing their job. And if they’re not through, you know, appraisals, then goodbye. Thanks for the fish. And they’ve done. They’ve done the due diligence in the nominations committee to know who that the succession plan will be in advance. They know if there’s someone internally who could step up with training all they know, they’ve got they are and someone externally to replace that CEO.

Mark Littlewood 

Thank you. Thank you. We’ll come back to your Richard Wayne, do you have a board? Investor? Cool. Can you pass the microphone down? I’m gonna widen, modest. Wayne was a developers, and a developer at a company for 30 years, he bought it out from the founders who founded it 40 years ago, 17 people 1011 years ago 320. Now you’ve just taken some money, we were talking a little bit. And that’s not not uncommon BoS story, those kinds of companies did things really quietly and interesting that you were talking about some of the inflection points in your business? When did you decide you wanted to board and what did you want to get from them? And how come you ended up with the investor being the person that felt that

Audience Member 

So I would say 10 years ago, maybe 11 years ago, was the first BoS Conference that I went to, and I went to it because I felt alone. And so as a CEO, you have employees, and you can talk to him about some things, but you can’t talk to Him about everything. And so basically, that left my wife to listen to me drone on about everything. And so I think he was the most excited for me to get a board. And so I’m sure I had probably 20 employees, when I came for my first BoS Conference have 320. Now, it’s all from BoS. So but we took an investor two years ago, and I think the thing that most has helped is that, that the investor is a sounding board. So it is the board, but they also have a vested interest to to make sure. And I spent a lot of time finding the PE company that I wanted, that matched up with what I wanted to do with the company not with what they want to do with the company. So there’s lots of people that have lots of bad things to say about PE companies. But it’s a mismatch on what the founder wants to do compared to what the investor wants to do. But but the board in general, if I hadn’t done a P E Company, I probably should have had a board a long time ago as a sounding board to be able to talk to and have somebody to share troubles with and figure out some bigger things.

Mark Littlewood 

Thank you, Richard. Oh, sorry, who was the other?

Audience Member 

That’s because he had, we have a non executive director, who happens to be our customer, our client for five, six years. And he’s been running his company for for many years with 2030 years of experience in running a company so and he kept giving us a lot of advice on it. And you should be doing this and that. And one day, I said, Why don’t you just come in and join us a non exec and, you know, make this official, all these advices. And we take on board, and him being a client, as well as having a lot of experience on the planning company side. And CEO himself, he brings up a lot of perspective of, you know, what our client thinks, and you know, doing just hard work is not enough. You need to have on top of communication and a lot of other things. So I think he’s one of the instead of looking looking for just a non, you know, directors, we will look for some people in your network in your connections in your client base. Maybe they know a lot more about your business, and they can help you a lot more as well.

Mark Littlewood 

Thank you. One last question, Richard.

Audience Member 

We have two representatives of investors on our board and yes, their job is to make sure we’re not doing anything daft that’s jeopardising the money. But actually, other board members can do contribute, you know, point back, maybe you’ve got bad experiences mark. But there are you know, we’ve got a guy called Michael Jackson. He’s everything by the way that you have described rather, you know, of a different era, etc. But every now and again, he comes out with something so why is it helpful based on just years of experience, that it changed the direction of the business as a consequence, and we’ve really benefited from added chair, I think chairs also really key role, especially if you’re a growth company looking to exit our chairs got private equity background, it takes quite a few meetings for us. We’re just maintaining relationships with potential acquirers and partners, because I think actually a board. I’m a real advocate for a good board. But that doesn’t mean every board is a good board. But I certainly wouldn’t push back against. Unfortunately, that only negative perception.

Mark Littlewood 

Final question. Final question. How do we get in touch with you, Allison? I’ve got your number you have? Do you have? Can you just share your contact?

Alison Vincent 

Twitter handle? There we go. DM me on that? LinkedIn.

Mark Littlewood 

Fabulous. So what a great way to start the second day. I’m kind of amused that bill was the first speaker yesterday and one of the things that came out of his talk was that don’t have an investor you don’t want to have dinner with don’t have an advisor you don’t want to have dinner with and it’s almost like someone’s thought about pulling a set of talks together or I just get lucky every time. I listen. Thank you so much.


Alison Vincent

Independent Adviser

Alison is a hugely experienced CTO, CISO and business leader in large global ICT companies including IBM, Micro Focus, Cisco and, most recently HSBC where she served as Group CISO.

She is now a Non Executive on a number of public and private boards and a trusted technical advisor to start ups. She is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Computer Society, and the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She has a passion for people, fun and technology, a Phd in Maths and Cryptography, and enjoys skiing in her spare time.

More from Alison.


Next Events

BoS USA 2023

BoS USA 2024 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

23-25 Sept 2024 at Raleigh, NC

Learn how great software companies are built to help you build long-term, profitable, sustainable businesses.

The Road to Exit 🌐

Next Cohort Starts September 2024
A BoS Mastermind Group
facilitated by Mr Joe Leech

Hangout with Bob Moesta 🌐

11 July 2024 at 2pm BST
An online Q&A with the lifelong innovator and coarchitect of the JTBD theory.

Want more of these insightful talks?

At BoS we run events and publish highly-valued content for anyone building, running, or scaling a SaaS or software business.

Sign up for a weekly dose of latest actionable and useful content.


Unsubscribe any time. We will never sell your email address. It is yours.