NED at BlueSkeye AI, Premier Education Group Ltd and Bolton NHS Foundation Trust and Chair iFM Bolton; Trustee of Leodis Multi Academy Trust
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Building a NED portfolio – without a strong network
When Rebecca (Becks) Ganz decided to start a NED career, she was living back in the north of England for the first time in more than 20 years. Becks had spent the previous 18 years in New Zealand. And before that she’d worked in London.
“If you can take anything from my story,” Becks says, “it’s that this is possible. I’ve had an unconventional background and my professional network in the UK was very poor. Yet I’ve built the portfolio I wanted.”
Becks had set her sights on a mixed portfolio – to include a pro bono role plus ones in the public and private sectors in the health, education and fitness sectors. You could assume targeting sectors which routinely advertise their roles would make for an easier start. This was far from Becks experience.
“I was feeling well prepared,” she remembers. A self-described ‘learning junkie’ she’d completed the 6month FT NED programme, so was more than across the governance expertise required. She’d prepared a Board CV with care and attention. “It seems a huge amount of work just to be on the ‘possible’ pile, but that’s what it is,” Becks remembers, “The Women on Boards feedback on my first draft was invaluable – it was tough but specific to me and constructive which is what you need to make improvements.”
The importance of networks
With a very small network in the UK, Becks realised that common routes to a first NED role weren’t open to her. “So I went hard and I went wide with my applications,” Becks says, citing a number of networks and recruiters she connected with. Yet, it didn’t prove straightforward.
“I’d never been rejected like this in my life…..I’m a consultant so I’m used to winning work. This was a shock. I needed to change my game.”
Becks narrowed her focus on getting the pro bono role she’d wanted in her portfolio. Through a specialist education network, she secured a role at an academy trust. “My experience not only in finance and governance, but in M&A was really relevant as as a sponsored academy was joining the Trust.”
With a new role and a re-vamped Board CV, Becks started applying again targeting health roles in the public and private sectors. “I was still only getting about a 10% success rate though,” she admits, although this proved to be enough.
She got an interview with an NHS trust in Bolton. “This was where Women on Boards was amazing,” she says. “They connected me with other NEDs in the NHS as part of my preparation for the interview. People were incredibly generous with their time. As a result of their advice, I was more on point for the interview and was able to mention issues which I wasn’t expected to know about.”
She got the role, and has also gone on to become Chair of the trust’s wholly owned subsidiary, iFM Bolton. Becks has also since secured positions with private sector companies in the education and fitness space.
“It’s taken me about two years overall,” she says. “It is very competitive. What I’ve learnt is you need to have a clear point of view on their priorities and what they should be doing. You also need to know what you are bringing that fills a gap for them – for me, I was values-aligned with the organisations but brought a highly commercial perspective which expands diversity of thought. I also bring my coaching experience to my approach as a NED, in how I offer the ‘check and challenge’ to the executive.”