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Kirsten Taylor - General Counsel at Roland Europe Group

In The Boardroom with Neil MacDougall

Chairman, Silverfleet and Chairman, BVCA

Neil joined Silverfleet in 1989, and became the firm’s fourth Managing Partner in 2004, a position he held until 2019, when he became chairman of the firm. His 30 years’ of experience of investing in European mid-market buyouts also includes leading of the buyout of Silverfleet from The Prudential in 2007 and subsequently raising three funds. Neil is currently the Chair of the Council of the BVCA, a member of the UK Business Angels Association and alongside his Silverfleet responsibilities he is an active angel investor.

What do you think makes a good board member?

First, really try to understand the business, its history, its products and services and how they are really made or delivered, which companies it really competes against etc. This means being properly prepared, asking sensible questions and listening very carefully to the answers. Do not shoot from the hip, ever.

What is the most significant change you have seen in the boardroom during your career?

Greater transparency, an explosion of data and in some cases more information. There is a world of difference between data and information and a good management team can synthesise data so that it becomes information that can be productively discussed and be the basis on which good decisions can be taken.

What is the one thing you would like to change about boardroom life?

Reading out the slides - if it's been written down it should be assumed that it has already been read and digested. It is the “so what?” that matters.

What is your organization doing to promote diversity in the boardroom and in management positions below board level?

Being aware of your own bias and actively trying to overcome it. This means working with people who are not like you, they don’t fit the stereotype for the role, they are not part of the “boys club” and never will be and that’s OK. Private equity has a long way to go to really change this unfortunately, there are still far too many “stag” firms where all the partners are pale and male.

Do you believe in having an employee on the board?

Absolutely. For AGs in Germany it’s a legal requirement and I have been on the board of an AG. The worker representatives were really good, kept getting re-elected and kept management and the board on their toes. I do not understand the reluctance of UK boards to embrace this.

Outside of the pandemic, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing boards in the next 3 to 5 years?

Dealing with an ever increasing range of issues in addition to running a business and making a profit. It's just a huge amount to stay on top of and the list gets ever longer.

If you were starting your career now, what would you be?

Probably unemployed. The impact of the pandemic on youth employment is horrendous with c.17% of economically active 18-29s without a job. It would be good to see business try to do something about this because in a few years' time many of them will be bleating on about skills shortages and blaming everybody else.

What characteristic has served you well in your career?

Being an extrovert - that’s not about being the attention-grabbing, heart-and-soul-of-the-party type of person, it's about how you form your ideas. In other words, asking other people for their opinions, listening to what they have to say and changing your mind as a consequence.

What is your most hated corporate jargon?

The verb “to grow” as in “what are we going to do to grow the business?” Organisms grow by cell division, companies don’t. It’s a lazy use of English and there are perfectly good alternatives. If you want to grow stuff, get an allotment.

Once the pandemic is over, what is the first thing that you want to do?

I think there are some seriously overdue drinks parties to be had with current and former colleagues in several different organisations. Cheers!