Mandy Calvert

NED at the Guinness Partnership Housing Association and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency

Starting your boardroom career in a new sector

Many of us suppose that our early board roles would be in sectors we are very familiar with and have had executive experience in. However, Mandy Calvert began her NED career in housing associations after a long career at AstraZeneca.

She was first invited to apply for a role on a housing association board by someone in her personal network after a Women on Boards member suggested she look at non-executive roles. She did a lot of reading up, both on the organisation and the wider housing association sector but found it both local and manageable as a role. So why was she appointed with zero housing experience? “Housing associations span between a charity and business,” she explains, “so having a general business background is very relevant.”

As someone with a different perspective, she found herself picking up on things the rest of the board did not. For example, when they were looking at merging she spotted some anomalies with a potential partner where others did not.

The housing association did, in fact, merge, and Mandy joined the audit committee on the new board. This required more familiarisation with the sector, as for example, long-term debt is viewed as lower risk in the housing sector than it would be for a PLC. She then put herself forward for the Health and Safety Committee, which is a huge area of focus after the tragedy at Grenfell.

“I felt I could add something as I see parallels in the industry with the changes that happened in the chemical industry in the past after some high profile safety scandals.”

Mandy has since chosen to pursue NED roles in the sector in which she forged her executive career. She took encouragement after reaching the final round and receiving positive feedback from a high-profile board application, despite not being appointed. “I knew this was an area worth pursuing but I did need to re-write my CV. My 1-on-1 Board CV review with Rowena at Women on Boards was extremely insightful.”

She says she took a risk at the interview. “In my presentation, I told a story. I thought at least they’d remember me that way!” It paid off, and she is now in the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

What is her advice for aspiring NEDs?

Be interested in the organisation. It’s vital! Use your networks – they are normally much stronger than you realise. After a long stint at one company, I thought my external networks were weak, but actually, they were extremely helpful.

When you get an interview, do your homework. There is a lot of information on companies available publically, so read the annual report, the accounts and more. Then, consider what their challenges are and how your skill set can fit into that.

Finally, always ask for feedback. It will help you understand how you come across and can be very encouraging even if you don’t get appointed.

Your next steps…