Martin Woodhead writes
I was introduced to the concept of having non-executive directors on my board in 1972 and have been a fan of them ever since. Without them I am sure my businesses would not have built up into successful, profitable and saleable enterprises—the first, Woodhead-Faulkner, being acquired by Simon & Schuster in 1987; and the second, Woodhead Publishing, being acquired in August 2013 by Elsevier.
Running an independent publishing business can be a lonely affair. The IPG does a brilliant job in so many ways, and is a true forum for the exchange of information and ideas, but it cannot help so much when it comes to managing and monitoring the development of individual businesses. This is where non-executive directors come in: to support the executive directors in making strategic decisions and ensure that the financial affairs of a company are managed correctly. Their role is not to advise on how or what to publish but to assist in the growth of a business through careful monitoring and regular meetings with the executive directors.
Some non-execs may have publishing experience and some may not—but all bring useful skills to the boardroom. My chairman for many years was an Essex car dealer who never professed to know much about publishing. His skills were all about financial planning, people development and spotting a problem six months ahead of the rest of us. On the other hand, another non-exec brought tremendous knowledge of the international academic publishing market and was influential in growing our US sales in particular. Most important of all, perhaps, is the constant support and encouragement that a non-exec brings during the difficult times—a sounding board in between meetings that can amount to a counselling service at times. None of this comes free, of course. But I think our investment in non-executive fees has paid for itself many times over.
Edward Milford writes
I would add to Martin’s endorsements of non-executives their value as a catalyst for more formal reporting. We arrived at a fairly simple but routine set of short monthly reports alongside management accounts that provided a very valuable discipline both for the managers producing them and for everybody round the table to get an overview of where different activities had reached. This in turn provided the benefit of a monthly ‘heads-up’ view of the business: a chance to stop and consider the bigger picture and the overall strategic direction we were taking. In theory we could have done this at any stage, but the monthly meetings, and the overviews of the non-execs, helped to prevent those involved in the business day-to-day from being buried in the minutiae of the company’s affairs.