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Discussing the Board Fellowship Programme with Lara Naqushbandi

Warren Partners

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Warren Partners placed Lara Naqushbandi on the Board of Assura plc in a Board Fellow position (2022-2023). Talking to Lara about the experience, our Founder, Joëlle Warren discussed the benefits and learnings from the Board Fellowship Programme which also led to Lara sharing advice for aspiring NEDs.

Lara described the Board Fellowship with Assura as a fantastic experience from a strategic, intellectual and career perspective; she has learnt a huge amount around board processes but also, through her interactions with the Chair, real understanding of how board dynamics work. Even part way through the programme she began to see the difference it made having a public board on her CV in terms of how she was perceived by headhunters. Personally, she found the Assura Board to be dynamic, inclusive, very informed, a ‘really good bunch of people to engage with’ and she enjoyed the personal interactions.

The challenge, which she hadn’t experienced previously in her career, was getting the right balance between being supported by the board, as it was a new experience for her, as well as them having the right level of expectation of her, given she hadn’t joined as a summer intern.  She had a good experience with the Assura Board but felt it was ‘a bit more subtle than a normal board position’.

When Joëlle raised with Lara a common objection she has heard from boards when discussing the Board Fellowship Programme, that it could be seen as tokenistic, Lara’s response was ‘If I’m being harsh, I think it’s lazy people who can’t be bothered, or if I’m being generous it’s perhaps a view from people who are a bit insecure about whether they’re going to do it and mess it up’.

Lara pointed out that the statistics around ethnic board representation are ‘shocking’, while the data around the impact of having ethnic minorities on the board is very compelling. Looking at the programme, she commented that there’s very little downside risk, if any, for a company that participates. ‘They’re not really paying anything but are able to say they’re doing something; somebody who would probably be quite highly paid in their normal day to day job is giving them free advice and hopefully, ultimately, you’re helping make the world a better and more equal place’. She conceded that there is a possibility that the interpersonal reactions could be challenging and ‘people might be worried about messing things up, but a Board Fellow is a great experience. The Fellow is not going to come on and decimate your board and I think it can make a huge difference to people’s opportunity set and careers’.

When asked what advice she would you give to somebody who wants to be a Board Fellow to maximise their chances of getting a board role, Lara said the first is to be open and to be confident that you actually belong on a board. Potential Board Fellows are often people that have the experience to demonstrate that they should be on a board but they haven’t actually been on a board and so they get stuck in a chicken and egg situation. ‘You should feel confident that you should be there and put yourself forward and don’t feel nervous about that.’

The second thing though, is to find a board that you think is going to be interesting for you, both because you find the sector, the company and what they’re doing interesting, but also because you’ve met some of the board members and the Chair and you feel that there’s going to be an inclusive and useful dynamic from which you can learn. You should be open to trying new sectors as well because there aren’t many of these positions so, if you get one, they’re a great experience, and if that’s what you want to do, you take it.

Lara’s closing comment was ‘I think it’s a brilliant scheme and no brainer to do it! So, thank you for facilitating my experience.’

If you’d like to learn more about being a Board Fellow or having a Board Fellow on your board, please do get in touch with one of our Partners. This is a scheme we operate pro bono for the FTSE 250 and the 50 largest private companies as building diverse boards and leadership teams is core to our purpose at Warren Partners. 


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