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"What makes a good NED?" - How to choose the right non-executive director for your business

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

If you’re looking for a non-executive director for your company, there are various considerations to keep in mind. Steve Allen, friend of Firebird, shares his tips on finding your best fit.


This is the second post of a two-part series on non-execs. Read the first, Why Do I Need A NED? by clicking here.

Choosing a non-executive director (NED) involves considering a range of factors for your business:

  • What skills, competencies and experiences do you want this person to bring to the board?

  • How would you like them to help you, your team and the company?

  • What, ultimately, do you hope to gain from their time and contribution?

Whatever your answers to the above, there are some characteristics all good NEDs will share.

"The right NED will be able to hold management accountable, acting with integrity to ensure that the best strategic decisions are being made"

An independent, objective mindset is key: the right NED will be able to hold management accountable, acting with integrity to ensure that the best strategic decisions are being made for the business and its shareholders at all times – an “eyes on, hands off” approach that balances insight and guidance to help you and the team agree the right strategy and how to track its success.


A good NED can act as an effective ambassador for the company, and the messages you want to share to advance in the market. Bringing a seasoned, admired non-exec to your team will enhance perceptions of your business from the inside out, adding value in the eyes of staff, customers, business partners and others. The NED should be a thoughtful and experienced communicator with board members, stakeholders and media alike, as well as the relevant regulators in your industry, always holding the bigger picture in mind.

"Every business is on a journey and its development can be enhanced, and even accelerated, by choosing the right NED"

It's especially important to find somebody who not only knows your sector, but relates to your business, and what it is seeking to do. Every business is on a journey and its development can be enhanced, and even accelerated, by choosing the right NED.


A non-exec with many years of experience, who has ridden a lot of waves – through the bad, the good, and the challenging – will be ideal for most businesses, and you will naturally want to get to know any prospective NED before you consider appointing them to the role.


As part of that process you need to establish if this person is the right cultural fit: if their levels of empathy and understanding will complement your leadership team and company culture. Mutual respect is a vital ingredient here. After all, this is someone with whom your team – and, in particular, the CEO – should feel comfortable to bounce ideas around; someone with the skills and insight to challenge them in thoughtful, measured ways; who understands their own duties and responsibilities as a NED, and takes these seriously.

"It can be a smart move to fully align a NED, creating an incentive arrangement in line with your agreed business goals"

It can be a smart move to fully align a NED, creating an incentive arrangement in line with your agreed business goals. This can be really powerful in motivating the NED to do all that he or she can to achieve the success you are seeking.


As in any recruitment process, you can’t beat getting to know someone, and doing your research. Speak to others who know and have worked with this person. Explore the details of their career and what they have achieved. Look at and seek out recommendations you can rely on.


Find someone with the right levels of energy, who is dependable in a crisis, who can be there whenever they are needed, and your company stands to benefit significantly, as do the people within it. A good NED will not only help guide your business on its journey, but take time to mentor and help grow your leadership team along the way, perhaps advising, too, on succession planning for the future, and – if applicable – helping identify options for acquisition or exit.


At Firebird, we believe that bringing the right NED on to your board, either to advise or chair the company, can make a real difference to the financial success of a business. Indeed, he or she can add real value – both to profit and loss, and the worth of the company – helping you to realise your business and life goals.


If you would like to learn more about non-executive directorships through Firebird, please get in touch: www.firebirdpartnership.com


Steve Allen is a friend of the Firebird Partnership. A non-exec for several companies, he has accumulated 40 years of experience in business to date. He has worked in various segments of travel including tour operating, airline, retail, membership and business travel, for both large and small companies – from public to family-owned businesses – and has led companies with annual sales from £8m to £700m.


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