first non executive director role: Amanda Swann Karbon Housing

Amanda Swann: My first Non Executive Director role

Are you considering your first non-executive director role?

Chantelle Harris, Consultant in our Housing practice, talked to Amanda Swann, Development Director at Bromford, about her journey to securing her first non-executive role, as a Board Member at Karbon Homes.

Amanda says: “One of the key things to differentiate yourself when you’re looking at a non executive role is the ability to step out of the operational and look more at a governance and oversight role, which is quite an art.”

“Karbon’s Board were committed to increasing its diversity, and partnered with us to do just that.  Relevant skills, strategic capability and alignment with Karbon’s values were deemed more important than previous non executive experience, and furthermore, they were willing and able to coach and mentor the right candidate if required.  However, it was clear from the assessment process that whilst she hadn’t done the role before, Amanda had developed her understanding of good governance and the role she’d need to play.” – Chantelle Harris

If you’re interested in ways to improve the diversity of your Board, or if you’re an aspiring non-executive director, get in touch with Chantelle at


Video Transcript:

Chantelle Harris  0:01

Hi, Amanda.
It’s great to see you today and as we’ve discussed we’re very keen to gather your insights on your experience of securing a non-executive role. It was a pleasure to work with Karbon Homes on their board recruitment recently and to play a role in your appointment as non-executive director. Hopefully, as this is your first non-executive role, understanding a bit about your journey will help others who are interested in in making the same move.

So first of all, before we get into that, could you just tell us a little bit about your role at Bromford, your current day job, please?

Amanda Swann  
So, happy to have this conversation.
Chantelle, it’s been a really interesting journey for me. So I’m currently the development director at Bromford. I’ve been working in this particular role for the last four years and so am responsible for leading a fairly large team of colleagues that delivers the operational day-to-day development program at Bromford. Which is in excess of 1200 homes a year. Prior to that, I had a number of roles, but within the development space, so working through the performance and strategy or project management or doing a little bit on the finance side as well.

So, development is where my passion lies.

Chantelle Harris   1:25
OK, so what made you consider a move into a non-executive role?

Amanda Swann   1:32
So I think for those of us who have been in social housing/affordable housing for for quite a while, there’s a real responsibility on all of us to ensure that the whole industry is successful.
And I think working in various organisations, we all gain such a broad level of skills, experience and insight and different approaches and different ways of doing things. I think there’s a real responsibility on us, if we can, to share that across the whole industry. And actually for me, one of the obvious things was to look at how I could support another organisation.

With the skills and experience that I’ve got and how we can better the industry together because at the end of it, we are all… whilst we’re not working in competition with each other… we’ve all got the same goals and aspirations. We all want to provide really good quality homes for those customers who need them. So it was a real kind of synergy for me and just felt like a really natural next step, once I’ve got to this level in my career.

Chantelle Harris   2:33
Yeah, absolutely.
So we see it all the time that it’s not easy actually to convince an interview panel that you’re ready for your first non-executive director role when you’ve not done it before.
What did you do to help prepare yourself for that transition?

Amanda Swann   2:49
So this is a journey that I’ve probably been on for a couple of years and one that as you know, through our conversation, Chantelle, has changed a little bit as I’ve gone through.

So what have I done in the day job to to prepare myself?

I’ve been curious about asking questions about areas I don’t feel quite as strong in. I’ve not had a huge amount of exposure to treasury work, for example. So I spent a lot of time working with our Director of Treasury to understand its broader impact outside of just development through and through. I know the bit of the business that we do, but once you start to get into these senior roles, you start to get more exposure across the wider business.

For me, it was about that gap analysis and understanding where I was potentially a bit weaker at that corporate level and seeking to fill those gaps.
I think the other really important thing was being able to step into a more governance space. We’re very used to doing the operational day job we get right down into the detail, but one of the key things to differentiate yourself when you’re looking for that sort of non-exec role is the ability to step out of the operational and look more at a governance oversight role, which is quite an art when all you’ve been used to doing is the operational.  So I secured myself a role on our risk and compliance form which feeds straight into our Audit and Risk Committee. I was a non-functional member so I wasn’t there representing the development function, I wasn’t there representing my particular area of the business. I was there as a governance colleague with oversight across the whole piece. So I got some real exposure to commenting on things that were definitely outside of my day job and policies and procedures and ways of doing things a bit more strategically than the operational day job would have allowed.

Chantelle Harris   4:44
Yeah, that makes sense. It’s so important to get that sort of experience. I think you hit the nail on the head, the governance experience is something that we always try and advise candidates to try and gain some experience of before considering this sort of appointment.

From our perspective, it was a privilege to work with Karbon homes who were very much focused on attracting a diverse pool of candidates and they were very open to the potential need to coach and mentor somebody into this role. So tell us a little bit about the board that you have been appointed to and also a bit about your experience during the recruitment process and feelings about the board.

Amanda Swann   5:32
So as I mentioned earlier, I started with a slightly different view in terms of the organisation that I wanted to align myself to, because I think there’s a real importance there for it to be the right non-exec role, you’ve got to really align with the organisation. You’ve got to have the same values and the same aspirations and things like that, and I’d always thought that maybe I would be looking towards a smaller organisation because it was my first non-exec role. And, therefore, it steered me away from looking at the sort of slightly larger organisations such as Karbon because you know that everyone’s gonna want somebody that’s got tons of experience and you know they’re gonna want somebody that’s done this before and bits and pieces like that.

I think when the opportunity for Karbon came up (and geographically it’s a very long way away from where I live so that there’s no conflict of interest) it was that they were committed to wanting to diversify their board and they were very aware of a number of their board members terms were coming to an end and who they wanted to bring in – colleagues onto the board that bought a different level of experience, that bought a different dynamic, that bought that some real kind of lived in day to day experience of being in that social housing world. But, also, that they could help shape and grow and mould.

I’m very, very lucky that you know they wanted to try and fulfil that and they stuck to their guns and that’s exactly what they did do because the couple of us that have been appointed, this is our first foray into proper non-exec spaces. I feel very privileged that they asked me to come and join.

I think what’s been great about the recruitment process is pretty much the same as any other recruitment process. The telephone call with you guys and then putting forward a CV and statement and then an interview.
And I think the slight difference is you’re being interviewed by the chair of the board and members of the other senior executive team at Karbon and a couple of independent members on the board which can be quite challenging because they’re all very senior.

It’s it’s your first role. So how do you kind of convince them? I think for me, it was just being really open and honest around this is my first opportunity. I am in a very operational role at the moment, but I’ve identified that that’s going to be a challenge for me and I’m very open about the support that I might need. I’ve been very lucky that Karbon has responded to that and one of their current board members is my mentor.
So we now have regular catch-ups and she’s always on the end of the phone to do that coaching piece. Karbons governance team and the induction that they’ve set up, whilst it’s relatively operationally focused, actually what they’re doing is they’re allowing us to see the mechanics so that we can then be able to see how they work as a business and have that governance overview.
So yeah, it’s been a really good experience all the way through from that initial conversation.

Chantelle Harris   8:27
That’s great to hear.
And what’s been your biggest learning curve for you?

Amanda Swann   8:33
So the the learning curve is definitely two fold.

I think taking on an exec role on top of a full-time day job is a challenge, but it is really rewarding. I’m learning as much to take back into my organisation as hopefully, I’m giving in to Karbon. So I think that’s interesting.

I think in terms of the biggest learning curve, with it being the first non-executive role, it is balancing that operational and commentary versus the strategic oversight and the strategic governance that you’re there to provide as a board. It’s very easy to dip back into the operational and to pick holes in specific bits and pieces that might be going on. And for me, that is absolutely a journey I’m going to go on and I’m going to continue to be on, but you know, I’ve had my first feedback with the chair of the board and it’s all going well so far.

So I think for me that’s it. It’s taking that step out of ‘you’re not here to operationally run their business for them’ –  they’ve got plenty of colleagues to do that.
What you’re here to do is make sure that it’s a really well-governed, really well-managed business.

Chantelle Harris   9:35
And just finally, what would your advice be to people who are considering exploring non-executive opportunities for themselves?

Amanda Swann   9:44
Well, I’d say go for it.

And I’d say there is so much that holds us back. You know, many of us have imposter syndrome, but quite a lot of the time I think just go for it.
I think it’s rewarding both for the organisation that you’re working for and for the organisation that you’re a board member for.

It’s really rewarding. I’ve made lots of new connections. Lots of new relationships are being formed.

I think it’s beneficial to the whole industry. I think making sure it’s the right time for you would be a huge consideration. It is a commitment on top of a day job that you might already have.

And I think find an organisation that you can align with, that aligns with what you’re interested in, what your passions are, what your values are and where you sit personally. I think that’s important.

I’m really lucky with Karbon that they are a forward-thinking, aspirational organisation that cares about their customers and that’s ultimately what we’re here for.

Chantelle Harris   10:54
Yeah, great stuff.
Well, thank you, Amanda.
That’s been interesting and I appreciate your time.

Amanda Swann  
Thank you.


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