Rita Dhut

Portfolio NED: JP Morgan European Investment Trsut plc;  Ashoka Indian Equity Investment Trust plc; ChewyMoon; Newable Private Investing Scale Up Fund; Girls Day School Trust

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Spot the difference: Start-up, Not for profit and PLC boards

After a highly successful career as a fund manager, Rita Dhut felt in need of a new challenge and decided to move into a dual career as a start-up investor and NED. She now sits as a non-executive on boards in the not-for-profit sector, start-ups and two listed investment trusts. But what different challenges does each type of organisations bring – and how did she secure those opportunities?

“I am very diversified in my portfolio,” Rita recognises, “which has always been my nature anyway, but is a strength in what you can bring to a board in terms of lateral thinking and creativity.” She also believes its important to have some core themes, especially in terms of articulating the value you can bring to others. For Rita, these are governance and investment expertise. 

She was not considering a not-for-profit board when she was approached by a headhunter about a trustee role at the Girls Day School Trust. Keeping an open mind has paid off as she has found it highly rewarding – both in hearing about the pupils’ achievements and also in her own personal development.

“I’ve learnt a huge amount,” Rita says. She gained first-hand experience of the dynamics between the executive and non-executives and has had the opportunity to join the Audit and Risk Committee.

“Although joining an education board felt a bit left-field at the time, I feel very lucky I took the opportunity.”

As Rita is an investor in start-up companies with around 50 unquoted investments, she needs to be highly selective which boards she devotes time to in that space. “A start-up board is very different to a charity or a plc,” Rita considers. Firstly, there is more blurring between the executive and non-executive’s roles. “At times, it will be ‘all hands on deck’ which means the time commitment can be quite erratic,” she explains. Secondly, Rita is also clear that in an evolving company, your contribution as a NED will only be valuable for a certain period. You should be very clear on what you offer – and when it is time to move on. And finally, at an early stage company, you should be constantly thinking about capital and fundraising. All in all, it is exciting but not for the faint hearted!

Rita now also has roles on two plc investment trusts. Ashoka Indian Equity investment trust is a relatively small trust but was un-listed at the time, and Rita was intrigued to be involved with preparing a company for an IPO. Taking it through a successful IPO from a board perspective was useful new experience for Rita, although she had a very deep understanding of its core business.

Rita was recommended to a headhunter for the role, and put in a little extra to ensure she had the best chance of securing the role. In addition to her board CV, Rita provided a detailed commentary on how she fitted the role requirements. “It saves the headhunter doing that work,” she explains and ensured she was positioned in the way she wanted to be to the board.

Enjoying the interview

Rita credits having the right attitude going into the interviews as key to clinching her most recent appointment to the board of JP Morgan European Equity Investment Trust plc. “I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and to enjoy myself in the interviews,” she explains. Rita admits to having suffered with imposter syndrome in the early days after leaving her executive role, but this was something she had clearly overcome by the time of being interviewed for this role. She says, “I knew I deserved to be there, I knew how I think about things.” This all worked to her benefit as they were looking for someone ‘sparky, with a bit of personality’.

In fact, Rita believes it is important to let your personality come across in interviews. She explains, “You always have to believe with a non-executive role things will get tough. You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people, so can you work with them? Do you like them?” She recommends asking the headhunter not only about the organisation but about the individuals as well when considering a role.        

“You need to believe in yourself for others to believe in you,” Rita urges, “Don’t be afraid to bring your personality and stand out in a good way.”

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