BeOnBoard recently had the pleasure of working with Business West – the region’s most influential business organisation – to put the principles of diversity and inclusion into practise and make a difference to their leadership. Here, Business West’s Managing Director Phil Smith details the organisation’s journey.
Phil Smith – Managing Director, Business West
Business West is the most influential business organisation in the region. With our expertise regularly accessed by over 20,000 regular business users, we are looked to as an authoritative voice on the economy. On issues important to business, be they local government priorities or skills shortages, or tackling climate change, Brexit or COVID-19, we will have a strategic view and, in many cases, tactical information and advice for individual businesses.
However, the world is changing dramatically, and our Board is very conscious that to remain credible and effective, Business West needs to know what’s going on in all parts of our business community: their concerns and hopes. We need to be able to support and respond. We manage to reach out, through many great projects, deep into our communities, but sometimes struggle to truly interpret and/or act on the messages we are getting. Too often we end up prioritising what we already know and care about.
This needs to change if we are to remain relevant and to help shape the future. The quickest way to drive this is through the leadership of the organisation. Over the past few months, we have taken two immediate actions.
One: the Board has agreed to the rigorous process of becoming a B Corp, an accreditation that demands that a company looks at its impact on people and planet as much as it does on profit. Two: we have expanded the experience of our Board of Directors, recruiting new Non-Executive Directors with the aim of bringing fresh insight and challenge. We are adding different perspectives from the business community we are trying to serve on the challenges that society now asks all businesses to confront.
I will write more fully about our B Corp journey on another occasion, however, today I want to share with you our experience in recruiting these new Non-Executive Directors. Business West does not pay its Non-Executive Directors and historically, has drawn its selection from our extensive, but usual, range of contacts. This time around we were determined both to avoid this echo chamber by prospecting in new pools, and also to take care to properly describe the talents we were looking to recruit based on our above aim. We decided we would take up to two new Non-Executive Directors if we found the right people.
Working with BeOnBoard
To help us we worked with BeOnBoard, an initiative set up by Kalpna Woolf in 2018 that is dedicated to delivering diverse and inclusive leadership in Bristol and the South West. Initially, BeOnBoard conducted an in-depth review of the skillset of the current board, helped us identify what skills we will need going forward and reviewed our recruitment criteria and process, which included a Board Awareness workshop to help us identify our own biases, understand how they impact recruitment and how to avoid its pitfalls. BeOnBoard worked with us to produce a bespoke marketing plan specifically tailored to be accessible and attractive to diverse candidates and opened up new channels of communication through its networks that Business West hasn’t traditionally reached. With the considerable experience of Kalpna and the BeOnBoard team advising us, we were able to select, shortlist and interview candidates, confident that they would bring something special to the Board. Having been there from the beginning of the process, BeOnBoard had a practical hands-on approach throughout that also included support with the interviews, both for us and for the candidates.
We had a fantastic response from our communications, both from the usual Business West’s channels and, most importantly, from BeOnBoard’s own routes to market. We were impressed and delighted at the calibre and commitment of the individuals who came forward. Shortlisting was very difficult, but representatives of Business West’s Nominations Committee, Kalpna and I ended up interviewing a shortlist of impressive candidates.
The BeOnBoard training we had completed pre-COVID certainly helped. Recruiting in your own image is a very difficult instinct to break. However, whilst all seven shortlisted were outstanding, three, we felt, really suited our Board’s current needs. Three?! I hear you say; yes we ended up making offers to three candidates, as we thought each brought something extra that our current board doesn’t possess. I’m pleased to say all have accepted. They are:
Ade is an Audit Senior Manager at Nationwide who also serves as an Independent Member of the Audit Committee of Bristol City Council. He enjoys coaching, mentoring and inspiring individuals to become the best version of themselves, and is a mentor with a local Bristol charity that supports ex-offenders in reintegrating effectively into society.
Co-Owner of Rocko, a consultancy working with Tech SMEs, Martin comes with a host of experience within retail, supply chain and tech. He is passionate about diversity and inclusion, the South West and working with companies to adapt and thrive in the challenging world in which we operate.
Poku is an entrepreneur with a host of skills and experience across many sectors in Bristol and the South West at Board and Consultancy level. He is the Founder and CEO of Babbasa, which supports underrepresented young people in the UK, and has many personal awards for the work he has done for communities, diversity and inclusion.
Now the real work must begin. After inducting them into the workings of Business West, it’s down to me to make sure we derive as much benefit from these new Directors as we can in making sure that Business West remains relevant to the business community we serve.