Sekai Mutambirwa

NED at Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP)

Being flexible about your board journey

Few of us have seen our plans for 2020 work out exactly as intended. However, Sekai Mutambirwa has already achieved her goal of becoming a non-executive director in May this year.

An IT professional at HSBC, Sekai has a strong interest in tech and collaborates in angel investing in start-ups within the cryptocurrency field. Mentoring business owners and working on national steering committees piqued her interest in joining a board. She was keen to get a full NED role, targeting a tech company or investor, as it would give her more opportunities to develop strategic skills.

Sekai set about researching directorships and was able to join Women on Boards as part of HSBC’s Corporate Partnership. Using the resources available she identified her value-add to the boardroom, developed a Board CV and a ‘base’ cover letter to adapt to different roles. “I was so excited that I was all prepared!” smiles Sekai, but initially found little success.

After being beaten to a role with a crowdfunding platform at interview, she decided to broaden her search to consider a wider range of roles. Re-doubling her efforts to find roles, with recruiters, LinkedIn and Women on Boards, Sekai was excited to find a role advertised with her Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). There are 38 LEPs across the country that work with private and public sector partners to secure investment and accelerate business-led economic growth.

Hertfordshire LEP’s key priority areas chimed with Sekai’s interest in supporting entrepreneurs, and by this point Covid-19 had brought a change in perspective. “I live in a beautiful area, but had been spending most of my time commuting into London,” she reflects, “Now I was working at home all the time and it felt like a way to contribute to my local community.”

She discussed this motivation at her (virtual) interview. She was also asked about any audit or legal experience, where she found her experience was broader than it may appear. “I realised actually I do have this. Part of my role is working with regulators to launch different IT products, so I understand those legal, audit and fiduciary responsibilities,” Sekai says, showing that even an interview can build your understanding of what you have to offer as NED.

She was appointed to the LEP’s grants sub-board which decides on the awards to make to different businesses. “It works really well as we all make a different type of contribution,” Sekai says, explaining that 50% of the members are from the private sector and others are from the public, not-for-profit and education sectors.

The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped Sekai from securing her first NED role, so what would she advise others wanting to keep their 2020 plans on track?

“Many boards want a lawyer or an accountant – and I am neither so think about what you can offer and write down all your strengths.”

Sekai is also clear that determination and resilience is important. “Just keep going with applications. Also network as much as possible – there are lots of online networks and use your LinkedIn to research other women in similar roles,” she suggests.

Finally and most importantly is being flexible about your aim. “Be open minded,” Sekai advises, “You might be lucky and get your ideal role straight away, but there could also be so many other roles that offer a rich experience and align with your personal goals. It’s good to be helping others, while helping yourself too.”

Your next steps…