Non-Executive Chair of Morgan Stanley Investment Management Ltd; Non-Executive Director and Chair of the Risk Committees at Rathbones plc (a FTSE 250 company) and Morgan Stanley International; Associate Fellow at The Said Business School; MIT Corporate Visiting Committee member; motivational speaker for Speakers for Schools.
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Behind the bio … The struggles to build a successful Non-Exec. portfolio
Terri Duhon’s bio is impressive. Non-executive positions in leading financial services companies; connections with two highly prestigious universities; and a background launching multiple businesses as an entrepreneur as well as a successful Wall Street career. It is easy to look at her accomplishments and think her path has been as polished as her CV is.
“Alongside these highs, I have a large number of lows which don’t feature in my bio,” laughs Terri. She recounts an early experience when she became the talk of the campus in her final year at MIT university for being publicly thrown out of a job interview after just 15 minutes. She also reveals being fired and re-hired on the same day by different desks at JP Morgan. Or more recently having ‘such an awful conversation with a lot of chuckling on the other side’ when she first put herself forward to lecture on Oxford University’s MBA programme. “It took three years of knocking on that door to eventually get there,” she says of lecturing Oxford students about financial markets.
And here is one of the secrets of Terri’s success: persistence.
It’s a quality she has called on in every phase of her career, but she says it was her journey to get on to boards which brought her ‘the most demoralising lows’. In her late 30s, with ‘just’ 10 years experience in a corporate role before having become an entrepreneur, Terri wasn’t a typical board candidate when she started seeking a private sector role. Eventually she realised she ‘needed a story’ to explain the contribution her younger-than-average age and non-traditional background would bring.
Along the path to honing this ‘pitch’, she remembers many demoralising conversations with recruiters and other contacts. Terri fell back on her community to get her through the times she began to lose heart. “There was one day, I was just asking myself ‘what am I doing?’” Terri remembers, “and I just called my friend who gave me what I needed to hear.” Although her network had been important in building her businesses, Terri really valued the emotional and motivational support she was able to give and receive when entering the non-executive space.
The challenges in motivation and confidence did not disappear on entering the boardroom either. A few months into a significant learning curve on the board at Morgan Stanley, the Chair asked to speak to her privately. Terri felt convinced he was going to ask her to step down, but instead he said they wanted her to chair the Risk Committee.
Investing in creating a mutually supportive community has helped Terri build the resilience to create her successful career.
Terri’s first board role was in fact ‘just a committee’ on the Princes Trust charity. She had become used to putting herself out there when she quit her corporate job to launch a new business. So when she heard at a networking event about the benefits of taking on a charity role early in your career, she reached out to the speaker. That connection led to her role with Princes Trust and the beginning of her board career.
The experience on even a fairly small charity was where Terri began to learn about the role of a non-executive. She found the communication style was very different from her ‘trading floor lingo’. She silenced the room when she announced bluntly at an early board meeting that they should fire the CEO. Looking back, she maintains her analysis was the right one but that she should have communicated it through the lense of a skills analysis and the risks a mis-match could pose organisationally.
Terri also credits her experience on charity boards with enabling her to identify her unique value-add to the boardroom.
Yet, Terri knew getting a role on a corporate board posed a significant challenge. She had been advised to target a public sector or subsidiary board on her route to a FTSE company board which was her ultimate goal. Terri was highly systematic in her approach to recruiters. “I had a spreadsheet,” she admits, “and targeted meeting each one every six months.”
Key to this approach was having something new to update the recruiters on every time. Whether a new role, her book launch or other achievements to add to her CV, Terri made sure they were fully aware of her progression. She found the boutique recruiters in particular began to see her potential as a NED, rather than focusing on just her experience to date.
Make your first impressions count, but don’t write anyone off.
Terri is also clear that the challenges don’t end when you enter the boardroom. She describes feeling ‘terrified’ at her first board meeting at Morgan Stanley. Terri had doubted the Chair when he had said to her it would take about a year to understand things fully. But after a 500+ page board pack full of unfathomable acronyms, she began to see he was right. She decided she would listen fully and learn. “I didn’t say a word in that first meeting,” Terri reveals, “and in the second I decided to make two or three points, but mainly to keep listening.”
In fact, this has proved to be one of her strengths as a NED. “I am very good at listening well, and summarising complex issues,” Terri says, “which is really valuable in the boardroom.”
Even with her impressive portfolio and strong NED experience, Terri still needs to work hard. “Even a few months ago, I interviewed for a role and I failed. I’m still embarrassed,” she admits. “Recognise that people’s bios show only the successes. There are always lots of failures and set backs but you need to keep going. “
So how should you best approach seeking a board role?
“I’ve been blown away by Women on Boards,” says Terri who is one of our Ambassadors. “I was bashing away through the jungle but Women on Boards have the road map. Use the resources and reach out to people. Above all, don’t give up.”