How the IoD can help you build a portfolio career

IoD portfolio career non-executive director

Working as a non-executive director can offer you flexibility and be richly rewarding, but how do you get your portfolio career started? The institute has a range of experts and resources on hand to guide you

In 1989 Charles Handy, an Irish economist and philosopher, introduced the world to a new concept. In his book, The Age of Unreason, he wrote about “a portfolio of activities – some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause… The different bits fit together to form a balanced whole greater than the parts.” And so the “portfolio life” was created.

Chris Lyons is an IoD member and co-author of the 2009 book Building a Portfolio Career: How to create a portfolio of roles to suit your work and life. Pursuing a life of careers instead of a career for life, he says, can provide “flexibility that gives you control and balance in your life; a balance for your time and money; and a balance between your work life and home life. This is balance that you design yourself.”

Directors considering a portfolio career will often set their sights on becoming a non-executive director (Ned) and holding numerous roles of this type across a range of sectors, but that is easier said than done. Ian Dormer, a Chartered Director and MD of Rosh Engineering, explains that becoming a Ned “is very different from being an executive director. Although the skills you’ll learn from the executive role are applicable, this job is about challenging the executive team. You are there to add value and ensure that the business is in good shape.”

The best Neds, he stresses, are those who can take a step back and ask the right questions to ensure effective governance. What they absolutely should not do is simply rubber-stamp board decisions.

Jo Haigh, the winner of the 2013 Sunday Times Non-Executive Director of the Year award, is one of the leaders of the IoD’s course on the role of the Ned. She believes that “most people have no idea what being a Ned really means. They don’t know how to get such a role and they don’t know about their liabilities in it.”

Many experts recommend that you should start out in a voluntary capacity, rather than trying to make the leap from executive director to corporate Ned. Schools, academies and charities, for instance, are always on the lookout for directors with strong commercial skills to serve them as governors and trustees. Experience in any such role will make you a far more credible candidate when you’re applying to fill a corporate vacancy.

For anyone who has considered making the transition from one career to many, the IoD can offer invaluable training, resources and advice. Here are just some of the ways in which it can help you in pursuit of your portfolio life:



The IoD has produced a factsheet on how to become a Ned. This contains information about, among other things, the functions and responsibilities of the role, where to find vacancies, the appointment process, ensuring your independence as a Ned and what level of remuneration to expect.

The IoD’s Directors’ Advice Service offers guidance including CV reviews for those seeking Ned roles.

The IoD Academy is also running a practical one-day course on the role of the Ned at 118 Pall Mall on 25 October, where you can benefit from the wisdom of an experienced portfolio Ned and hear the latest interview tips from headhunters.

There are two forthcoming workshops in Chelmsford and Manchester, offering practical tips for becoming a Ned. These are designed to help you identify the skills you’ll need to hone for the role, write a compelling CV and distinguish yourself from the competition.



Serving as a charity trustee is an excellent base on which to build a portfolio career. This job demands that you ensure that the organisation operates in a legal and proper manner.

The institute’s one-day course on the role of the trustee is designed to give participants a clear understanding of good governance, the fundamental aspects of running a charity and the ethical and legal issues that every not-for-profit body needs to manage. Its lead tutor is Paul Munden, a Chartered Director. “Gone are the days when volunteers simply popped along to a board meeting and had a bit of a social event,” he says. “Trustees now really have to understand their role.”

The IoD has also produced a factsheet on what it takes to be a trustee.



The IoD champions the important work of school governors and academy trustees, who typically have the same responsibilities as Neds. Training and empowering company directors on governance issues is a central objective of the institute, so the IoD policy unit takes an interest in how those charged with the governance of schools perform.

In June the IoD’s director general, Stephen Martin, and the secretary of state for education, Damian Hinds, announced a joint initiative to encourage directors to apply their skills as school governors and academy trustees. To this end, the IoD will soon broadcast a webinar entitled “School governance: the hows and whys for directors”.

The institute has also produced a factsheet on what it takes to be a school governor or academy trustee.


The IoD’s Information and Advisory Service offers a wealth of resources for anyone planning to embark on a portfolio career as a non-exec, such as guidance on what your duties will be and what could constitute a conflict of interest.

About author

Ryan Herman

Ryan Herman

Alongside his work for Director, Ryan has written for SportBusiness International, VICE Sports, Populous, Audi and Gallop Magazine and was previously editor of Sky Sports Magazine.

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