Alice Avis MBE
NED, experienced CEO and Chair of a range of boards
Making an impact as a Non-Executive
To many, non-executives can feel removed from the day to day life of the company. Meeting formally only a handful of times a year, it can appear that non-executives are merely checking on the executive team, who are the ones really making a difference.
Nothing could be further from Alice Avis’ introduction to the role of a non-executive.
Her first role came somewhat out of the blue, early in her career. When her CFO at Guinness pulled her aside, she wondered what had gone wrong. Instead of reprimanding her, he asked her to join him on the Board of Guinness’ Group’s publishing division. She could hardly refuse the opportunity, but nor was it exactly a golden ticket. Although the publishing division was responsible for well-loved brands like the Guinness Book of Records, it was underperforming. Alice relished the challenge however and describes it as ‘hugely valuable experience to be part of a successful turnaround situation.’
However, Alice went on to make an even greater impact in her second non-executive role a few years later. She joined a board at what was pitched to her as “a loss making spa in Covent Garden,” under private equity ownership. Before she joined, it is interesting to note that the female-only spa’s board was all male.
Making The Sanctuary Spa into a destination brand was “very hands-on for a non-executive position” Alice considers. She and her colleague -who became Chair of the board – put together a business plan, raised capital for a complete refurbishment, improved the customer offer and changed the marketing. This took the Sanctuary from a £5m turnover loss-maker, to an £8m turnover profitable business with considerable PR interest and brand equity. They went on to leverage this by bringing the product range in-house, creating a new and very successful division of the company.
For Alice the opportunity to really see the impact you are making is the attraction of joining the board of a private limited or equity-backed company. There is also the possibility of receiving a financial return personally, depending on your non-executive remuneration agreements. Alice also really valued these experiences as opportunities to work with very senior people and all the learning that brings.
Alice’s experiences at Guinness and the Sanctuary were alongside a full-time executive role (as well as two small children).
“It’s amazing how much you can fit in when you are excited by what you’re doing.”
Her advice to others seeking non-executive positions is to be clear on your unique differentiator. For her, it is strategy, marketing, e-commerce and entrepreneurial experience.
Alice has now built a portfolio of NED roles, including a plc and an investment fund as well two private companies. She also advises small businesses on their growth strategy and works with a number of charities, including City Harvest and The National Trust.
Alice is a portfolio NED who has an impressive career as a CEO, Chair and NED having been on the board of a range of different companies. Alice’s experience includes stints as Director of Marketing and e-Commerce at Marks and Spencer, and as Global Brand Director at Johnnie Walker. In 2009 she was awarded an MBE for services to the beauty industry.
During her time as Chief Executive and Chair at The Sanctuary Spa, Alice oversaw a trebling of the business’s value and its sale to PZ Cussons. Most recently she served as Executive Chairman for Lumene Oy, a Finnish skincare and cosmetics company. She is currently a Non-Executive Director at The Edrington Group, a privately-owned international spirits company, and Cyden Limited, a British beauty and health company, as well as serving as an advisor to the National Trust. In April 2016 Alice joined the board of BGF, which is an active investor in the start-up entrepreneurial space in the UK, and in March of 2019, she joined the board of Empiric Student Property Plc, a company which provides premium student accommodation in the UK.