Monica was named as one of Cranfield’s Women to Watch in 2019 and has since gained a range of other non-executive appointments.
GETTING A ROLE IN A NEW SECTOR: HOW BOARD RECRUITMENT CAN REALLY WORK
Monica Chadha’s background is in media and entertainment, having succeeded in a demanding executive career at MyMovies.net in particular. So academia is not the obvious fit for her to play a non-executive role. However, when talking about her roles – and she has several – at Queen Mary’s University it is clear it’s a passion for her.
“I wanted to be a role model, to use my power that I had earnt,” she explains as an alumni of this university, which is unique within the Russell Group for its richly diverse student body. Her route to this board in the world of academia gives a fascinating insight into how appointments can really work.
A few years ago “for the second or third time, I had to press the reset button on my career”, she explains – this time pursuing a portfolio career. Seeing the role at Queen Mary’s advertised with Women on Boards, she looked down the requirements and thought she was a strong fit – ‘tick tick tick’ as she puts it. So she was disappointed when her initial meeting with the chair did not result in an offer. Instead, he asked her to judge a student competition. Against a friends’ advice to simply walk away, she remained determined to make her contribution so accepted the invitation.
“It turned out to be a test,” she discovered. On a panel with IBM, Monica was surprised when they came to her first on every entry for her appraisal of its merits. She found out it was testing her judgement and understanding. Initially, she was annoyed by this approach but realised that her media background was outside the small, traditional pool of applicants. “He couldn’t pick the phone to ask one of his friends what I was really like, or if I just had the gift of the gab,” she says, “so he had to find another way to vet me.” She passed the test.
Her performance on the board has clearly impressed from there on out. An incoming Chair appointed her as Vice Chair and she now also chairs the Renumeration committee and sits on the Audit and Risk committee, roles normally reserved for those with financial backgrounds.
Monica is clear that strong experience is highly transferable across sectors in non-executive roles: “It’s the same issues, strategy, leadership, performance, risk, culture.” For her, she falls back on her impressive people skills, saying “Some of it is a world away from what I know, but when you’re with a great group of people it’s amazing what you can achieve.”
“If it’s not right, just step down. What’s the worst that could happen?”
In her advice to aspiring non-executives she points out “no-one is born board ready”. It’s vital to understand that the offer of a board position is a two-way vetting process – “if you are the answer, what is the question?” she asks. She suggests having the courage to refuse an offer if it is not the right fit, but also counsels taking a risk when necessary, “If it’s not right, just step down. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Generally in her career and life, Monica is proud of having carved out her own path. “Have the longest personal board of advisers available to you,” she suggests. And Women on Boards have been part of that for her. “Women on Boards has been great for me,” she says, “I found sense checking my CV and seeing the vacancy ad so key. You can wait for email alerts [from Women on Boards] but you have to decide how much you’re going to engage with the organisation.”
Monica’s experience goes far beyond her work at Queen Mary’s University. She spoke to us about sexism when she first entered the boardroom at a young age, her highly challenging role as a NED at what became a failing tech-start up, how she got her ‘incredible Rollodex’ and the doors it opened for her, as well as her personal upbringing, work ethic and genuine love of networking – ‘I love the human relational element .. just talking to people’, she enthuses. Monica also shares her biggest surprises at how the boardroom really works, top tips for aspiring NEDs and advice on managing a busy portfolio.
This article is based on an interview recorded in 2018.