Women on boards – Anne Richards

Anne_Richards_150x188Anne is the Chief Investment Officer and head of the EMEA region for Aberdeen Asset Management, where she is also a main board director. She began her career as a research fellow at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, moving into the investment world in 1992. Her career has included research analysis, portfolio management and global asset allocation, and includes time with JP Morgan and Mercury Asset Management, later MLIM. In 2002 she joined the main board of Edinburgh Fund Managers plc as Chief Investment Officer and Joint Managing Director. She continued in her role as global Chief Investment Officer for the combined entity when EFM was taken over by Aberdeen Asset Management in 2003.

What attracted you to apply for your current board position(s)?

I sit on a number of boards currently – one as an executive director of a FTSE100 company, one as a NED of a FTSE250 company, one as a NED of a private estate and two not for profit boards (one a university, the other an orchestra). With hindsight, I realize that I did not actually apply for any of them. In all cases I was approached, either by a headhunter or directly by a member of the board itself. However, in all cases I was attracted to the roles due to a combination of sympathy and interest with the activities of the organization. In each case I also felt that I had both something useful to give in terms of my existing skills and experience, as well as something to learn which would broaden my horizons.

Did your career path lead you to current role, for example by providing you with specific sector experience relevant to the board?

I am an engineer by training and also hold an MBA. For the last 22 years I have been working in the investment world, and my experience with financials plus a good understanding of risk have generally been the aspects of my background that boards have found most useful.

What strengths, personal and professional, did you highlight in the interview process?

It is important to be able to demonstrate an understanding and interesting in the underlying activities of the organisation during the interview process. Also being able to show a sensitivity to the differences between executive and non executive roles is key – personal chemistry plays a large part in the effectiveness of a board.

What do you get out of board membership? Is it more difficult, in a non-executive, to see how your contribution impacts on the organisation and whether it is valued?

I have really enjoyed learning how different organisations function as well as meeting a wide variety of intelligent, capable and interesting people through my board memberships. I believe I have developed as an individual and a professional as a result. It can be harder to see the effect of the contribution you make around the board room table on an organisation and whether it is valued than in an executive role, but over time you learn the small signals that show that this is happening.

Do you speak to other women about the opportunities or positions on boards to encourage them to apply or simply hear their views?

I actively encourage other women to consider board roles on a regular basis. I believe that this will help them in their executive careers, as well as bring real benefits to the boards on which they sit.

What do you think are the barriers to women getting onto boards? What do you think are the differences between applying for an non-executive as opposed to executive position?

The biggest barriers to women getting onto boards are 1) they are not in the right network which means they do not get approached; 2) there is still sub-conscious and in some cases conscious bias against appointing women in certain organisations; and 3) some women do not have previous board experience and many boards want evidence of previous board experience before appointing – the classic “Catch 22” situation. I don’t think there are that many differences between applying for a non-executive versus an executive position. In both cases it is about doing your homework, preparing for the interview, showing passion, knowledge, competence and preferably humour on the day!

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