How do you describe your job when you meet people for the first time?
I call myself a "professional director", but emphasise that I mean it in the best possible sense – very expert, very active and very engaged.
What was the career path that led up to being a professional director?
My career as an in-house lawyer was going well, but I had children comparatively late in life and wanted to spend more time with them. So, in 2006, I followed up on an interesting business idea that I had and established a firm to provide directorship services to private investment funds. It is a huge industry that really needed the services that we offer. Now the company consists of three principals and eight staff – and we are in the process of growing further.
How many boards are you a member of?
Around 37 –most private investment funds and management companies but also all very different. Not everyone would have answered that question, but I believe very strongly in transparency as a professional value for board members.
What are the greatest challenges you face as a board member?
Within each board of directors, the challenges are human. Many people think that corporate governance is excessively technical, but I can tell you from experience that it’s as rich as human nature itself! My biggest challenge is to craft a solution for each decision around the human beings sitting around the table in the boardroom.
What about the challenges faced by boards as a whole?
In our industry, the biggest and most crucial post-crisis challenge for professional directors is to re-establish trust in organisations like hedge funds. As board members we need to show that we are looking out for investors’ interests and putting them before those of the investment managers. However, ideally the interests of investors and investment managers would be aligned most of the time.
Do senior leaders really need business education?
They should not be senior leaders if they don’t want to learn.
How did you find out about the International Directors Programme?
Timothy Rowley and Ludo Van der Heyden, the programme’s co-directors, came to give a talk in Luxembourg, which is where I am based. To be honest, when I was invited, I was at first reluctant to attend. But as soon as Ludo and Tim started talking, I looked up from my BlackBerry and listened. What they were saying resonated with my experiences and impressed me greatly. And by the end, I was ready to fill in my application form.
Was the programme what you expected? And what were the highlights?
It was everything I expected and more. It was fascinating in every way, shape and form. And it has had a massive impact on my work. The main highlight was the quality of the other participants, who were both exceptional and diverse. The faculty was excellent. The class discussions helped develop the lessons being taught. That the programme is stimulating is proven by the fact that I think about the lessons learned every week.
Why does diversity matter so much – on boards and on the programme?
Gender on boards had always been one of my pet topics. But it was only when I came to the programme that the importance of diversity in general hit me square in the forehead. I knew about the dangers of monolithic thinking of course, but when I saw the impact of cultural and industry diversity on the evolution of my own thinking during the programme, I experienced its power for myself.
Why did you choose to do the INSEAD Certificate in Corporate Governance as well as the International Directors Programme?
In my certification paper I wrote about what the boards of private funds can learn from the boards of public companies. The insights it has given me are helping to guide my firm ahead of the competition. But it’s not just that. It goes back to what I was saying about being a professional director. If you see you doctor, you want to be sure they went to medical school! The Certificate is a qualification that is genuinely contributing to the ongoing professional development of board members.
Bill Jones is the President of the INSEAD International Directors Programme Network, the programme’s official network of past participants. To become a participant yourself, start by clicking here for more information and an application form.