IF YOU’RE EVER IN THE RAT BUSINESS…‘Come in!’’ — the Mayor cried, looking biggerAnd in did come the strangest figure!His queer long coat from heel to headWas half of yellow and half of redAnd he himself was tall and thin,With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin

These days, the one thing that large and small businesses have in common is their desire to be successful.  If “success” is not your core strategy, big or small, you’re in the wrong business (no matter the size!)

Where large companies differ somewhat to the start-up or the SME in “scale-up” is the luxuries they have; and yes, a huge budget is one of those luxuries!  They inevitably have an enterprising board too, willing to bring onboard strategically focused outsiders [Non-Executive Directors] into its heart.   These “outside” directors often provide advice based on special knowledge and more often than not, an enviable list of contacts who bring ever-expanding opportunities for development.

On the other hand, the smaller and medium sized companies tend to be more circumspect in their approach to inviting these same exceptionally talented and well-connected non-executives. There is no single reason for this but rather a plethora of potential reasons which usually involve cost, of course, but also a reluctance to make a shift from being a relatively small and tight knit group of founders or board members.

Now this is all good and well but as we know, the issue with wearing something tightly knit, though, is that it has a tendency to constrict the breathing.  The same is true in business and is especially true in the SME landscape.

By expanding the stitching, you may let in some air! Now doesn’t that feel better? This is what a non-executive director does, especially for SMEs, where sometimes the board may consist of family members and who knows, even the odd friend or two! Bringing in new members to the board will breathe a breath of fresh air into the business.

Developing a new perspective, gaining a deeper knowledge of the marketplace and crafting a more innovative way of thinking, can really open your business up to new opportunities for development and growth; these are key ingredients for greater success in anyone’s book!

SMEs can’t Ironically, and using a monetary analogy, SME’s are precisely the kind of businesses that cannot afford to miss out on what a non-executive brings to the table. And as long as he or she is welcomed and valued for their advice and contributions, your SME will grow from strength to strength. But heed this caution, though! It’s advisable to give some thought to the qualities you’re looking for in your non-executive director, before you make your approach.

Remember the lesson learned by the Town Council of Hamelin, who brought in a non-executive to help them with their infestation problem. Once he had helped their enterprise to flourish – by utilising his musical expertise in pest control – they refused to appreciate the full contribution he’d made to their town’s development and withheld his payment. The consequences were disastrous! Refusing to pay him was actually the second mistake they made.

The first?

Well, even back in the fourteenth century, the members of the Town Council should have done their candidate due diligence a little better. They were approached by the Pied Piper, not the other way round.  As a result, they knew nothing about him. Now, if there had existed back then a website that could bring to their attention a large number of prospective candidates, where their background, expertise and personal qualities were on open display, well then…But sadly, the internet was almost 700 years away. And as a consequence, such a website did not exist in the year 1376.

Perhaps if it had done, they would have called it Non-Executive Pied Pipers.com!


Ian Wright is the Founder and CEO of Virtualnonexecs.com, a global platform and the UK’s largest Boardroom advisory community with 11,000+ non-executive director members.