Three further examples of international Non-Executive Directors (NEDs) in Part Three of our multi-part series sharing career paths and insights of individuals performing these roles. As before, our shorthand NED includes independent NEDs (iNEDs).
Similar to Part One and Part Two, the individuals represent different levels of NED experience, from those in their first few roles to seasoned board chairs. The need to prepare thoroughly for board and committee meetings has been raised in previous articles, and is mentioned by Part Three’s participants below too. This sentiment is described in more detail in a LinkedIn article on “Being an Effective Board Member” by John Howard, himself an experienced NED with a legal background. He describes the importance of preparation for these meetings like this: “Before each board and board committee meeting read the board book and reread relevant material from orientation. Speak to the Chairman and CEO (if the roles are separate) before the meeting. Meaningfully discuss the agenda, issues that concern you, and make suggestions so they know before the meeting your state of mind. Lack of preparation is the most common trait of bad directors.” John adds that proper preparation allows NEDs to bring something innovative to every board meeting, offering the idea for consideration at an appropriate time.
Jose Ribeiro, Sheelagh Malin and Karabo Morule are profiled in this article, and we hope that their reflections and recommendations will prompt your own reflection. Read more below for their career paths and NED experiences.
Unit-linked Life Insurance and General Insurance / Property & Casualty
Jose Ribeiro has been a board member in a number of international jurisdictions, including the UK, Europe, Hong Kong, China, Brazil, Bermuda and Singapore, although largely in executive capacities. He is currently developing a NED portfolio in the (re)insurance industry while lecturing at Imperial College in London (as Insurance Lead of their business school) on topics like risk management and cybersecurity.
His executive career covered a number of regional CEO roles, including as CEO for Willis Towers Watson for Latin America and the Caribbean, Head of International for Lloyds of London, CEO of Generali Brazil, and most recently MD of AM Best Asia-Pacific. This last role allowed Jose to refresh his specialist knowledge in the world of big data and artificial intelligence by being close to the leading companies in Asia and Australia.
Skills development is important to Jose who has a Masters in Applied Maths and Actuarial Science as well as an MBA. In his view, NEDs have to be more than generalists, while CEOs are generalists i.e. NEDs must have a field of expertise their companies can benefit from. It’s also been helpful, he says, to recall what you as a CEO wanted to discuss with your board, and to understand how to do that in an effective way: “it’s great to be able to provide advice I would’ve been keen to receive when I was a CEO”.
Jose’s current NED roles are with Hansard, an Isle of Man based unit-linked insurer listed on the London Stock Exchange, and Starr Insurance Companies, offering general and specialty insurance globally. He obtained the first role through an online recruitment platform, and the second through relationships developed over his career. Starr were looking for someone with international business experience and an understanding of regulation. Jose’s risk management experience was an added bonus. He feels that speaking at conferences globally also helps to build your profile – and was a contributing factor to his role as Insurance Lead for Imperial College. He emphasises too that it’s important to update your image to be seen as a NED and not an executive, including active conversations with headhunters so that they’re aware of your new direction.
His main motivation for pursuing a portfolio career was to spend more time on his personal projects (like lecturing, a vineyard, and real estate investments) and his grandchildren. However, he notes that his main focus is his NED work, so he has more capacity available for such roles. He enjoys them as he is able to share his experience with the board and help steer them away from mistakes he has made himself. The oversight role means that you have time to think and identify where you can add value to the executive team. Jose tends to be a member of the board, Risk Committee and Remuneration Committee due to his background. His professional training is especially relevant to his Risk Committee role in a Solvency II world, and he finds his original pension and life background quite useful for the Remuneration Committee too. One low of boardroom life, he sighs, is the need to carefully read too many pages of papers ahead of board and committee meetings: “few companies work hard to condense papers to an optimal size”.
Jose’s advice for us:
Health & Wealth Management
Sheelagh Malin is based in Dublin, Ireland, and during her executive career, was Managing Director of St James’ Place International, an Irish subsidiary of the UK wealth management group, for 12 years. Her time there coincided with an overall strengthening of governance requirements for Irish insurers as well as preparations for the Solvency II regime. As the company relied extensively on outsourcing, both within the group and to a third-party provider, the responsibility for overseeing most of these services gave her very broad experience. Prior to this she had been both Finance Director and Appointed Actuary and her experience in other companies also included marketing and product development, business planning, with-profits reporting and unit-pricing controls.
Her first NED role was on the board of the Health Insurance Authority in Ireland, which regulates the local health insurance market. She was approached by the Department of Health for this role in 2010, and became its chair in 2016, a role she still performs. It gave her credibility and confidence to leave her executive role in 2016, without other NED appointments lined up. To get more, she approached a number of headhunters, ensured her LinkedIn profile clearly indicated her availability and networked through industry and professional events. Sheelagh’s reasons for seeking more NED roles included: more flexibility in her work commitments (so that she could have more time for holidays and cultural interests) and she also felt that her attributes, skills and experience were a good fit with the role.
Sheelagh currently chairs a number of Risk Committees and one Audit Committee in the Wealth Management / Life Assurance industries for companies in Ireland and the Isle of Man. These are all subsidiaries of Monument Re, a Bermuda based reinsurer and consolidator, and Quilter plc, the UK listed wealth management group. As chair, she says, your role is to ensure that the committee is fulfilling its terms of reference. “Setting the forward agenda with management and ensuring adequate time for discussion and resolution of contentious issues are important aspects of this.”
“Preparation for board meetings is vital – there can be a lot of papers to read! There is a need to see the big picture and understand the key issues to focus on, including those that might be absent from the board pack. Within meetings it’s important to have a constructive and collaborative approach, while also being prepared to offer a minority viewpoint or challenge management. Overall, you need to be quite organised in your approach, develop good relationships with management and your fellow directors and be responsive to issues requiring attention outside scheduled meetings.”
Sheelagh explains that her professional training is of great benefit when it comes to understanding the financial dynamics of a financial services business, particularly in the Solvency II world of Solvency and Financial Condition Reports (SFCRs) and Own Risk and Solvency Assessments (ORSAs). She notes that the challenge for those presenting specialist reports is to be sufficiently engaging and informative so that the collective responsibility of the board isn’t abrogated to one NED with expertise in that specialism. She also has a coaching diploma, and her voluntary work for the Society of Actuaries in Ireland has included the development of its competency framework, new strategy for 2020-2023, and presentations on gender balance and mentoring. She is currently Vice President of the Society.
Sheelagh’s suggestions for us:
Karabo Morule is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and earlier this year was appointed to an independent NED role at digital bank TymeBank. Her career to date was spent at JP Morgan, including in London, and at Old Mutual, with her concluding role there as Managing Director of Personal Finance. Previous NED roles include company-appointed ones (such as trustee on Old Mutual’s umbrella retirement funds) and an external one at an administrator for a medical aid fund.
A member of the World Economic Forum’s Forum of Young Global Leaders in 2018, Karabo is also a NED at a South African thinktank focused on the role of financial services. For that position, she was approached by someone she knows who sits on the board as they were looking specifically for senior female executives working in financial services, particularly in insurance. And, for her most recent appointment, she chatted with friends and mentors about her desire to find a NED role, and they notified her of opportunities. Given her industry experience and the company’s strategy, there was a great fit. In general, she says, networking is very key.
Karabo feels that NED roles allow her to maintain a link to the financial services industry. She’s also open to expanding her knowledge and applying what she’s learned to other industries as she believes enterprise leadership skills are applicable to any company. She points to the regulatory requirements on NEDs to apply business knowledge and act with due skill, care and diligence. Her diversity of work experience combined with her interactions with boards at a very senior executive level support her belief that she can contribute to organisations as a NED.
A board role “requires one to maintain the values of the organisation, contribute to its strategy and long-term sustainability, and deliver value to its stakeholders”. In addition to sitting on the main board, Karabo’s on three subcommittees, and finds the work enjoyable “especially given the innovative and dynamic work the company is doing and its focus on innovation in its sector and on financial inclusion”.
She encourages boards to consider young executives as they can bring a different perspective and diversity of thought that can positively challenge the status quo. “The tendency for boards to want and value experience means most boards don’t have any members in their thirties or forties… it is sad too that many boards don’t have sufficient gender diversity either.”
In addition to preparing thoroughly, director certifications and/or governance qualifications came up again as ways to learn more about the responsibilities of directors and good corporate governance. The NEDs in this article also emphasised the importance of technical expertise and understanding (in areas like company law, technology disruption and data trends) combined with well-rounded business exposure to different disciplines for breadth.