Julie Pomeroy: “Ask the naïve questions; it’s likely others are thinking the same thing.”

Non-executive directors

4 min read

Julie Pomeroy is a non-executive director at Dillistone Group Plc, where she worked previously as Group Finance Director. She’s also the chair at Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies Holdings as well as a NED for the NHS Lincolnshire Integrated Care Board. Here, Julie shares insights on her move from an executive to a non-executive role and how a CFO keeps an organisation moving at pace.

What was the most defining moment of your career that led you to where you are today?

One that really stands out for me was quite early in my career when I began three months’ secondment in industry. That made me realise that I loved being involved with the company and implementing decisions rather than just giving advice from the side-line. This was the first step for me to gradually build the confidence and skillset that led to me working as CFO.

Personally, I always try to say yes to new opportunities even though they are outside of my comfort zone, as that is ultimately how you grow and get better at what you do. Spending time at different stages of my career as a member of exec teams, as a NED, and on different committees was hugely beneficial in broadening my perspective and has given me greater insight, allowing me to grow as an individual.

As Chair/NED, do you have any “golden rules” you try to follow for every board/meeting?

As Chair, the most important thing you can do is to listen very closely to what people are saying in the meeting, and to make sure everyone is given a chance to give their opinion and contribute. Summarising the discussions and conclusion helps to ensure that everyone is aligned and this applies regardless of whether you’re chairing a board or a committee. It’s also crucial that you think about the meeting’s agenda and timings to ensure that the board is discussing what it needs to and is given the time to do this.

As a non-executive director, it’s imperative that you really engage with the papers circulated for the meeting and think about the implications of each. Don’t be afraid to constructively challenge on anything that you need clarification on — and don’t worry about asking naïve questions, as it’s quite likely that others in the meeting are thinking the exact same thing.

“Don’t worry about asking naïve questions, as it’s quite likely that others in the meeting are thinking the exact same thing.”

Although constructive challenges are part of the bedrock of a well-functioning board, it’s just as important that you don’t respond aggressively when there is strong disagreement. Rather, engage with them one-on-one to work through and address the issues to arrive at a consensus.

How can smaller medium-sized companies remain agile while growing quickly? And what can bigger companies learn from them?

Taking agility to mean the speed at which an organisation can recognise and respond to threats and opportunities, I think small companies have an advantage when it comes to getting the right people together to take a decision quickly as their decision-making groups are smaller. However, in order to maintain this agility you need a great team in which everyone is committed to and focused on the same goal. If you don’t have this then decisions won’t be made quickly or well — even with a small, talented team.

You’ve also got to make sure your team are open to debate and constructive challenges — ultimately, they need to be willing to accept consensus and respect their colleagues. This greatly helps if the people get on professionally and work together, but as soon as you have team members who don’t accept consensus you start to lose that culture of respect, with the result being slower decision-making and a fragmenting team that doesn’t work as well together.

For larger organisations looking to boost their agility, I’d suggest they try to replicate this through a smaller number of layers of management. If you’ve got layers upon layers of management then the pace of decision-making slows down to a crawl and it becomes difficult to get a decision when you need one.

“If you’ve got layers upon layers of management then the pace of decision-making slows down to a crawl and it becomes difficult to get a decision when you need one.”

What can CFOs do that has most impact on how agile an organisation is?

In order to have an impact on organisational agility, it’s crucial that CFOs are able to quickly understand and model different scenarios so that informed decisions can be made. If it takes take six weeks to get an answer it can be a real barrier to agility.

CFOs can impact organisational agility further by always bearing in mind the bigger picture, as well as having command of the detail. In the past, I’ve seen some finance papers that were incredibly detailed documents but just never got read as people tuned out after the first 30 seconds think about put the detail in an appendix. Also, bear in mind that not everyone is as comfortable with numbers as you are, and consider if there’s a better way to deliver your message.

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