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A conversation with Simon Rendell, holder of 10 Non-executive director roles

03/09/18
On the 20th of November this year, Laurence Simons is putting on a workshop, exclusively for their clients. Working with the highly experienced team at the Financial Times Non-Executive Director Programme, this one day workshop is ideal for any lawyers considering taking on a non-executive role, whether on retirement or when they are still practising.

One of the speakers at the workshop is Simon Rendell, partner of Field Fisher and portfolio non-executive director (non-exec), who will be giving a personal perspective of the role. We asked him how he got started, why he thinks lawyers make good non-execs and to share any tips and challenges he has found.

When Simon was a Partner at Osborne Clarke, he took on a secondment as legal adviser at Vodafone. The secondment was only meant to be for a few weeks, but it ended up lasting almost a year. Simon found that he really liked working in a corporate environment rather than sitting outside as an advisor; he liked the different challenges and approach.

When he went back to Osborne Clarke, he started looking about for non-executive director roles he could do at the same time.  ‘Osborne Clarke were amazingly supportive of me doing that,’ he says. ‘You really need the support and acceptance of your law firm if you are going to take on a non-exec role whilst you are still practising.’

Simon is now a partner at Field Fisher and currently has ten non-exec roles, mainly in FinTech and Media, which are his areas of real expertise. All bar one he had when he moved from Osborne Clarke to his new firm and Field Fisher was happy for him to continue with the roles. Not only do they give him a different perspective which feeds back into his practice work, they also provide excellent networking opportunities.

However, ten roles is a lot and Simon says he has had to develop very strong self-discipline to effectively manage such a large portfolio. ‘Different companies will demand different levels of time and involvement,’ he says. ‘I spend the least time worrying about one of the largest companies I am Chairman of because I know it has an excellent CEO and a really strong board.’

Companies should consider appointing lawyers as non-execs because lawyers are very good with words and communication. They are trained to see things clearly, break down and analyse problems and articulate the issues and potential solutions clearly. It is absolutely ideal training for being a non-executive.

So why are there not more lawyers on boards of UK plc? In the UK, the default for non-execs appears to be accountants. This is completely different in the US where the default profession is practising lawyer or General Counsel. One reason that is often given is that lawyers have a tendency to sit on the fence. They see and offer opinions about all sides of an issue, advising what the options are, as opposed to being part of the actual decision.  But Simon does not necessarily agree with this view. ‘There may well be some lawyers that this applies to, but by no means all of them. Those lawyers who are tempted to get involved in the decision-making process would make ideal non-execs. Some lawyers think that once the contract has been signed, that’s the job done. But in fact that’s not the end of the process, it’s only the beginning. ‘
Simon is non-exec Chairman for a lot of the roles he currently has and he explains that the role of the Chairman is fundamentally about protecting the interests of shareholders, challenging and supporting the CEO and executive team and applying good corporate governance. ‘Governance is such a big issue for corporations these days, why wouldn’t they want a lawyer to be their chairman?’

Simon is non-exec Chairman for a lot of the roles he currently has and he explains that the role of the Chairman is fundamentally about protecting the interests of shareholders, challenging and supporting the CEO and executive team and applying good corporate governance. ‘Governance is such a big issue for corporations these days, why wouldn’t they want a lawyer to be their chairman?’

One of Simon’s pet hates is the concept of non-execs rocking up for one or two days a month and thinking that is it. ‘They have so much more than that to offer. So much more value they can add. They need to really get under the skin of a business, to understand it fully so that they can give the benefit of their legal training to the best of their abilities. In turn, that is the most rewarding part of being a non-exec, seeing the value that they have added to a business through their interventions.’

Simon is a very enthusiastic and passionate non-exec who is obviously very committed to the role and also has great fun with it. Come along to the workshop on 20th November to hear more of his personal experiences as well as finding out about the key elements of being a non-exec, the skills you need, what an effective board looks like, how to understand and deal with boardroom dynamics, what the core duties and liabilities of a non-exec are and how to go about getting yourself that all important first role. To find out more and to register, click here
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