Karen Furlong

Chair at AirPOS and non-executive director of Vhi Healthcare, Tridos Bank, Personal Injuries Assessment Board and Progressive Building Society.

You can listen to Karen’s story in full on podcast here or search ‘Women on Boards Success Stories’ in all major apps:

Building a values-led NED portfolio

Attracted to start-ups and the forward-thinking innovation they inspire, Karen Furlong takes special interest in organisations that serve the public. She has built an extensive career on non-executive boards guided by her values. Karen specialises in digital transformations, strategy, management and financial services and currently serves on five non-executive boards.

All of her current positions have been acquired within the last two years, following a move to Belfast. Karen saw the move as an opportunity to leave her existing executive and board roles, and re-evaluate what she desired from the boardroom experience.

She had invested in her own leadership philosophy and skills by obtaining both a Women in Leadership and Corporate Governance diploma. This showed her how to ensure the opportunities she takes align with her personal values. She says this approach “fundamentally transformed me as a leader and as a person.”

Previously, serving on the boards of education organisations allowed Karen to pursue her commitment to providing opportunities to young people. More fundamentally, she has brought her belief in the importance of instilling widespread, lasting change to guide her portfolio. She shared, “it’s a very, very deep value of mine that you can’t use sticking plasters to paper over the cracks”. Currently, her work with AirPOS, which helps companies create a virtual presence, is making the digital space easily accessible to all types of companies. This work became vital to small businesses when the pandemic took almost all operations online.

Her portfolio career also aligns with her personal motivations and values, offering “variety and challenge” as she put it. As a mother to a school-aged child, the flexible schedule of non-executives fits well into her life. She notes that while each board position results in about two to three days of work a month, the dates for each board are set a year in advance, providing ample time to make arrangements.

How Karen secured her board positions

Karen’s CV suggests that each of her placements were carefully selected for a specific end goal, however, she laughs in response to this assumption. She shares that, while she is intentional with where she works, she does recognise that some of her positions have come from who she knows. “It’s an unconscious kind of networking” is how Karen described the interactions that led to her role as Chair of the AirPOS board.

Karen stressed the importance of not only understanding what skills you can bring to a company, but of having a clear idea of who you are prior to the interview process.

“Everyone being interviewed has the qualifications, at that point it is about finding the right fit both for the individual and the company.”

While she has had success in securing board positions, Karen has been turned down for roles in the past. “Honestly, I haven’t been overly disappointed that I didn’t get them,” she says, as often she had already started to see it was not going to be a good fit.

Karen emphasises that it is as important that you feel good about the role and the company, as whether or not they decided to extend an offer.

For her, it is essential that the organisations align with her personal values, otherwise it is probably not the best fit for any party. She encourages others to consider their own values and evaluate organisations’ compatibility with them as they are considering board roles.

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