Non-Executive Director and Investment Committee Chair at Applerigg Limited; Board member at CCLA Investment Management COIF Charity Funds; Investment Committee Member at Nest – National Savings Trust
How I built my first non-executive portfolio
“I first considered the idea of moving into non-executive work about 10 years ago,” confesses Katrina Shenton. “I saw others in portfolio NED roles and, frankly, was attracted by the work-life balance compared to being in an executive leadership role. However, what prompted me to make the move was more the prospect of having a deeper impact across a number of organisations. That is incredibly exciting to me, especially as I’ve been able to focus on boards with an ethical focus which I am particularly passionate about.”
Kat was in a strong position to build a portfolio of non-executive roles. She had gained board experience in her executive career through sitting on a number of investment fund boards and committees in her role at Octopus Investments. “The investment committee at Octopus was the best board experience I gained, even though it wasn’t a full board. The decision-making processes, the clarity of the papers and the purpose of the committee was so sharp,” Kat shares. “Across the other boards, I was very lucky to be exposed to some really good board Chairs. Actually, I also worked with one really bad board member, which was just as valuable a learning experience!”
The move from her role at Octopus to having a portfolio of three non-executive roles has taken around two years, including some time out initially to decompress. Despite her strong credentials, establishing herself as a non-executive has not been a smooth path but required considerable tenacity and focus.
Dealing with rejection
“At the start, I put in a couple of ‘moonshot’ applications for listed boards,” Kat explains. “I was pleasantly surprised to be interviewed but ultimately got pipped to the post. On reflection, I see that listed firms particularly need to have strong story for the market on their appointments and there is no question they were right to appoint the more experienced candidates they chose in those cases.”
Never-the-less Kat found the rejection hard. “It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’d never had a big rejection in my executive career, so it took me a while to learn how to deal with the disappointment especially as the time spent on the applications is insane! But you sit with those feelings for a day or two then dust yourself off and carry on.”
Investing in yourself
Investing in support for the journey was a key decision Kat made early on, and one she feels has been key to her success. She explains, “I had to make that commitment to myself. I knew I needed to invest significant time and I also set a budget and focussed on learning and networking. So many times I’ve thought ‘this isn’t going to work’ but if you’ve invested it is harder to give up!”
Kat worked with a coach, which really helped her with resilience and staying focussed in her approach, and she has also recently begun the FT NED Diploma. She joined Women on Boards near the start of her journey, saying “The Women on Boards network has been amazing at offering the continued practical support and encouragement. Their CV course was also incredibly useful.”
Katrina had already put significant time and effort into preparing a CV and building her understanding of the market when the ‘almost perfect’ role for her came along, via our Bespoke NED Search service, at Applerigg, a family investment trust.
A two-way evaluation
Now with some experience in making applications, Kat approached Applerigg to test whether the position was truly aligned with her ethical priorities before committing to a formal application. “Although the role seemed tailor-made for me – wanting renewables and investment experience – I was concerned that ESG wasn’t one of their requirements. I set up a call with the CEO who said immediately that is absolutely was part of what they were looking for. That call was reassuring, and it also helped me build a rapport,” she says.
Framing the application very much as a two-way process, where she was evaluating if that board was right for her, as well as vice versa, proved successful for Kat who is now loving the role. “Even with all the prep, I hadn’t quite realised how valuable all my prior experience would be and I’ve taken on more responsibilities in the firm. It’s so rewarding!”
Kat has gone on to gain two additional non-executive roles this year and is now at capacity. “There have been low points along the way,” she confesses. “These processes can take a lot of time and sometimes just go quiet for a period. I remember distinctly feeling like it was never going to happen – just moments before I was offered the role at COIF!”
Passion and preparation as her winning formula
Reflecting on what has been key in securing her portfolio, Kat refers back to two key factors: passion and preparation.
“I am really careful to only apply for roles I really care about” “she reflects. “One of my big learnings in shifting to being a portfolio NED is to let that passion for a role come through. Boards want to see you are interested and enthusiastic about what they do.”
In terms of due diligence, Kat still relies on the detail and preparation skills she built as an executive, “I always take time to try to understand the key challenges for an organisation before an interview, and this has clearly helped me succeed. For example, during my prep for COIF, I’d gone down a bit of a rabbit hole in trying and failing to understand their structure. So I asked a question on this in the interview. Turns out it cut to the heart of a key strategic issue the board was grappling with.”
Finally, Kat adds “It is just really lovely to be in this position with a full portfolio, after a lot of work, persistence and, truthfully, feeling like it might not happen at points. At the moment my difficulty is trying to align the meeting dates across all three boards – it’s a nice problem to have!”
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