Identifying the right person to be chairman is challenging for SMEs. Leanne Tritton of ING Media offers five tips on how to get it right
All businesses are dependent upon quality leadership, including wiser counsel in the form of a chair or board support. Large companies have the advantage of resources, size and scale to attract the best talent. But despite these benefits, there’s no guarantee of success.
As the owner of a small business, I know first-hand that the search for the perfect ‘chairperson’ is much tougher. As a rule, financial resources are tighter and the perceived prestige of the role is often lower than a board position with a larger organisation. Also, for an SME, what exactly is the chair to do? What are the skills that are needed to make a significant impact on the company?
Our search for the right person has taken 15 years and involved several near misses. Well-meaning associates have often recommended the “perfect” person. However, upon meeting them I have often felt that they’re looking for a safe haven that will pay them a fee and a piece of the company in exchange for some light-touch advice. That never sat comfortably with me.
In February, we appointed our first chairman, property/regeneration industry expert Tony Danaher, and it has been a great success. So what have I learnt from the experience?
- Work ethic Make sure there is a shared understanding of work ethic. Do you expect the chairman to be rolling up their sleeves? Do they expect to have their feet up? Make sure that both of you are clear about expectations.
- Sharing knowledge How much is your new chair prepared to share? If you are appointing them because of their connections, make sure that they will willingly, and enthusiastically, share. Often ‘portfolio’ chairs are guarded about who/what/where they will share. Naturally, they have an interest in protecting their relationships but find out in advance how far they are willing to go.
- Industry expertise Our sector is specialist, so we needed someone who lived and breathed the industry. A chair with a broad business background would have been limited in being able to assist our growth.
- Clarity over the role As an SME owner, it can often be cathartic to find someone who you can confide in. However, after the first few meetings of getting your frustrations off your chest, what next? Make sure you are clear about what you want the chair to do on a practical level – otherwise you might simply end up hiring a very expensive therapist.
- Do you like and trust them? You will spend a lot of time with this person and confide (some of) your deepest, darkest secrets. Do you like them and trust them? If there is a doubt, don’t move forward. You are looking for a critical friend – not a combatant. Likewise, do they like and respect you? If there is not a level of mutual respect, the relationship will be short-lived.
It has been a long wait for ING, but it has been worth it.
Leanne Tritton is founder and managing director of ING Media