Nothing quite prepared me for the batism of fire that was co-founding and leading a start-up; from developing product and go-to-market strategy, building teams, finding customers, raising finance, and having to pay the bills, it was a lonely experience.
At the end of the second year, I decided enough was enough, I’d endured sitting in endless meetings with accountants and advisers who seemed to speak a different language and have a different agenda to me. I needed to have the confidence to be able to interact at their level.
Starting the Chartered Director journey
The Chartered Director qualification is backed by the Institute of Directors (IoD) which has supported businesses and the people who run them since 1903. The IoD has set the Gold Standard in the measurement of the competence of Directors.
Chartered Directors lead organisations in the private and public sectors at the highest strategic level. A Chartered Director has demonstrated to the IoD by way of study, examination, experience, and finally a demanding professional competence interview, that they have the expertise and integrity to meet the challenges of business today.
So I spoke to the IoD and my journey to becoming a Chartered Director began.
I had not experienced any professional development since being in my previous role. The thought of going back to the classroom was daunting to say the least, but I needed to feel stretched and challenged.
Back to the class room
In August 2004 I started attending courses at the IoD in London with an interesting mix of people from public and private sector organisations, SMEs, and global businesses. All were there for the same thing – to improve themselves as Directors but more importantly – improve their companies.
In August 2005 I had completed the full suite of course and had decided that I was going to give the Diploma in Company Direction a go. I hadn’t been in an exam since 1998 when I got my degree, so to find myself in a room of 30 people in total silence for 3 hours was a little unsettling. The run up to the exam was also hard work – running the business and swatting for hours was just not possible, so I booked a week off work and started cramming.
In October 2005 I found out that I had passed the exam and had gained a new qualification. I now had a Diploma in Company Direction. I certainly felt different and I was certainly by this time making better business decisions. Most importantly I actually understood what the accountants and advisers were saying to me.
One Step Further
Passing the exam had really spurred me on and I decided that to stop at this stage would be a stupid idea. To become a Chartered Director you have to submit a portfolio to the IoD, you are then invited to attend an interview which lasts about an hour with a panel of two other Chartered Directors.
I attended my interview in January 2006 after completing my portfolio – which seemed to take forever. The interview was the most nervous I had been since taking my driving test in 1992 – I remembered back to being a school boy sat sweating next to an examiner who had the power to give me my first real bit of freedom.
The interview lasted about an hour and was brilliant, I was immediately put at ease and asked to talk about my specialist subject – me. Once I’d got started I don’t think I really stopped until the end. This was a warts and all overview of the decisions I had made, the actions I had taken and things I had done in my career and most importantly in my time as a Director.
At the end of the interview I headed to the Members bar at the IoD to have a long drink and an even longer wait to find out how I’d got on. Four weeks passed and a letter arrived at home from the IoD. I knew what was inside but didn’t dare open it.
At the time, if it was good news it would make me the youngest Chartered Director so far – so no pressure then. Well I finally decided I needed to know the result. I opened the envelope and to my delight I found out that I had become a Chartered Director. All the hard work and study, balancing my job and a course, taking an exam and enduring the run up to the interview had all paid off.
But the real difference was in the business. I had completely restructured the company, turned it around from being a loss maker to making a profit. Taking difficult decisions, putting people in the right jobs and realising that I was setting the company up to run itself – without needing to baby sit it to the extent I had done before becoming a Chartered Director.
The product pipeline started to grow and we made an early move into the cloud; taking major customers ‘all-in’. I also took on several non-executive roles to increase the range of experience I had as a company director.
What I learned
I learnt pretty quickly that there were other people like me out there and that actually talking about the challenges I faced helped me to become a better leader.
The Company Direction Programme has helped me enormously and I would recommend anyone joining a Board or starting a company should at least attend the courses, they’ll stand you in good stead and will be something you can call upon for the rest of your professional life.
What happened next
In 2015, I moved to Amazon Web Services (AWS) where I got an opporutnity to put the skills from my start-up days into daily use with some of the worlds biggest companies. In that same year, I was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Directors.