On The Board Graduate Hanna Newton shares her experiences of the Programme in the first of two blogs she has written. On The Board is the governance Programme created for current and ex-profesional footballers and those working within the sport. Sponsored by the PFA and The FA, the Programme is now entering it’s fourth year and has seen previous graduates include Les Ferdinand, Jason Roberts MBE, Chris Hughton, Ugo Ehiogu, Michael Johnson and Darren Moore among others.
From orientation to graduation, read her first hand experience of an Effective Board Member Programme.
On The Board is an incredible programme. In addition to offering invaluable knowledge and insight of corporate governance with a focus on the footballing industry, it opens up doors to an array of new, unexplored opportunities and, possibly even more importantly (to me, anyway) a network of talented and exceptional people who very quickly become friends as well as study partners and colleagues.
The introduction to On The Board (OTB) is a group induction and selection process in lovely offices in Birmingham and I have to tell you I found it a real personal challenge. I won’t spoil it for you as I hope, if you’re reading this, that you choose to experience it yourself one day soon – suffice to say it’s a real “whaaaat!” moment involving public speaking to an audience of approximately 40 people, some of whom are evaluating you. I like those moments now; leaving my comfort zone is exciting and refreshing and OTB has given me sufficient confidence and expertise to face and/or challenge any situation that needs facing and/or challenging. I did not, however have those skills at the time of induction and I was shaking like a leaf. To be fair, I had very recently been widowed – recently enough that I hadn’t told anyone outside of my family and close friends about it – so I was feeling a little more vulnerable than usual, and public speaking has never been a strong point of mine anyway, in fact it terrifies (terrified) me. Interestingly, when invited by The Board Effect to participate in an expert panel at our graduation, to my surprise I found myself saying, “yes please”! That’s a direct result of this remarkably effective programme, but more on that later.
Once selected for the programme, clear information starts to come through on what to expect from the next six months; a little pre-reading and direct access to the CGFirst portal, an efficient method of disseminating information and communicating between participants and facilitators. I’m not sure everyone took the pre-reading quite as seriously at first as we did later on in the course; all too often we attend courses and workshops only to be disappointed at the calibre of content and final product. This, my friends, is definitely not the case with the On The Board programme. Every assignment is dynamic, and all information is relevant. If you choose to participate in this programme here’s a heads up; take any information offered to you and use it to the full. You’re welcome
14th October 2015: Session One
What to expect? No idea. On arrival at St George’s Park I was directed up to The Drum where I found the familiar and welcoming faces of the lovely Lisa Elliott and Liz Muir. Also, a seriously long board table and some impressive looking folders in front of each seat around that table. That session was our first real meeting with Karl George MBE, and what an amazing man he really is. Dropping in enough small, genuinely funny jokes through the session to keep us focused and entertained, I left The Drum that evening feeling confident and satisfied that I had already learnt a significant amount during those 3 hours, some of which I knew I could and would start implementing the following day.
18th November 2015: Session Two
A different room this month; an enclosed area within the Sir Bobby Robson Ballroom area set up as a boardroom, complete with super-long board table to accommodate us all and a warm welcome from Lisa, Liz, Karl, Oshor Williams and Jason Lee. I was starting to learn who everyone was at that point with faces becoming more familiar; confidence was building in everyone and conversation was becoming easier. A WhatsApp group had been set up after Session One and Lauren and I, the only two FA delegates left standing by this point, had been wholly included by the PFA mentors and delegates in everything which made a significant difference to the whole experience. When the session had finished I went back to my hotel room with an overall feeling of promise, combined with impatience that I had to wait almost a month until our next session. I did, however, have a whole heap of reading to do along with an assignment and it felt as if we were back at SGP in no time.
9th December 2015: Session Three
Back in The Drum this month we were advised by Karl that Greg Dyke, Chairman of The FA would be joining us for a while during the session. I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting him prior to that and was quite taken aback (in a good way!) by his strong charisma. He commandeered the room with seemingly little effort and illustrated several points that Karl had previously taught us, so it was interesting to see those in action. A Q&A session later and then he was gone although Sue Ravenlaw, Head of Equality and Safeguarding for The FA, stayed on so we could have a chat afterwards. Sue is responsible for pushing the On The Board programme forward from The FA’s perspective, a lovely lady who is genuinely interested in what we’re all up to and very supportive of our plans. This session left me feeling that whilst I had come a long way already, I still had a vast amount to learn but that I had support and backup whenever I felt I may need it.
13th January 2016: Session Four
Downstairs this month in the Terry Venables room it felt really good to walk into what was now a familiar environment. We had all started arriving early after the first session so we had time to talk and catch up with what we’d all been doing, what we thought of the most recent work and how behind we were on our reading (maybe that was just me). We were joined this month by Gordon Taylor OBE, Chief Executive of The PFA and the striking contrast between the role of chairman and CEO was immediately noticeable. Where Greg Dyke had walked into the room and straight to his chair at the head of the table, addressed us, responded to questions and left directly afterwards, Gordon walked around the table greeting everyone individually before going to take his seat at the head of the table. He spoke to us and with us, there was general conversation and when it was time to leave, Gordon again went around the table saying goodbye to each person individually. On both anthropological and professional levels it was an excellent illustration of the difference between the two key roles within an organisation. I left this fourth session with a sense of accomplishment; an understanding of how all the information we had been learning was starting to slot together into a clear, robust structure to work from. TIDY, BITE, DOVE. You’ll remember that when the time comes 😉
24th February 2016: Session Five
Well. There we were, back in The Drum for our fifth and final session. Our exam, always so far in the future, was suddenly looming and quite frankly the thought of it was a bit scary. Osh and Jason had been co-ordinating mentoring and revision sessions in Manchester, Nottingham, Leamington Spa and London offering everyone the opportunity to participate (another heads up for you – go to as many of these as you can) and these were invaluable – personally I found that as well as helping me understand and remember various key aspects, the sessions also highlighted a wealth of work yet to be done. Karl kept this last session at SGP relaxed and calm, and I left feeling not quite ready for the exam as I had more revision sessions to go to and more studying to be done, but as prepared as I should have been at that stage which was empowering. I also felt sad; I looked forward to each of these sessions with this remarkable group of people and I didn’t want it to end.
But end it must, and you know what they say… “Every end is a new beginning.”
16th March 2016: Exam Day
Revision sessions completed, cramming done, mock exams smashed, brain food eaten, stationery on point (I have irrational love for good stationery), hydration levels perfect, nerves on fire. Jay Z ‘Big Pimping’ up the M40 to St George’s Park, checked into my room, then straight to Club England to await further instruction. The exam was in a strict zero tolerance environment and was a 2 hour blur of writing (that’s hand writing. By hand.) which flew past much quicker than I wanted it to. Before we knew it, we were outside swapping war stories, mopping brows and then disappearing for very large and well deserved drinks. We knew we had to wait two weeks for our results and the impatience set in immediately, it was torture. I walked away from the exam room feeling exhilarated and disappointed at the same time; exhilarated because I knew I had done my best and given myself a fair chance, and gut-wrenching disappointment because I didn’t feel confident that my best was good enough. Did I mention that it was a hand-written exam?
29th March 2016: Results Day
When the email with the subject ‘Examination Results’ came in I felt sick to my stomach. By this point I was utterly convinced that I’d failed rather dismally, and hoped I was over the worst of the disappointment – I could resit the exam and had continued studying so I would be prepared. When I finally plucked up the courage to open the email, I read; “It is with great pleasure that I advise you that you have passed the examination” and promptly started crying before I could get any further, softie. Not only did I pass, I passed rather well which has done wonders for my confidence and enabled me to push further. On the back of this I was, as mentioned earlier, invited to be part of an ‘expert panel’ (me???) at our graduation and I jumped at the opportunity. See what happened there? Instead of saying no, I faced and/or challenged this situation that was way out of my comfort zone and embraced it. Many have tried to get me over my paralysing fear of public speaking, and all have failed up until the exceptional people involved with this third cohort of the On The Board programme. Karl, Lisa, Liz, Osh, Jason, Jonno and all the quite literally amazing people on our course have no way of knowing just how much they gave me during this process (unless they read this of course!) and I owe them something very special. I don’t know what it will be yet, but life has a way of showing you what people need and when they need it, don’t you think? So I’m keeping my watchful eye on that.
4th May 2016: Graduation Day
A quick tour of Wembley Stadium then straight up to the Pitch View East room for photos, interviews and graduation. Glass of bubbly in hand, I discovered that I couldn’t reach the bar stool on the stage that was set up for the panel (I’m not blessed with height) and had a little panic, but Liz and Judy George sorted that out in no time and with no hassle. It was fantastic to see so many familiar faces and particularly Soye Briggs, my Surrey FA colleague and a delegate on the previous years OTB cohort who came along to support me. And of course my youngest son Taylor, a 17 year old up and coming goalkeeper who has been very understanding during times of intense study, who attended as my plus one and made me feel extremely proud.
I’m still impressed by the turnout of previous On The Board delegates that evening. The programme is three years old, and clearly extremely well thought of. The calibre of people in the room was exceptional which would have slayed me just a few short months previously if I’d had to get up and speak in front of them about topics that they had already mastered, however thanks to the strength of the programme and support system I got up on that stage with Jason Lee, Michael Johnson and Nathan Talbot and I said exactly what I wanted to say, loud and clear. Kelly Sotherton was facilitating; that’s one hell of a stage to speak from, I assure you. But I got up there and I did it, much to the surprise of everyone in the room who either knows me, or thought they knew me.
Anyway, I digress. The evening was beautiful; immaculately put together and seamlessly orchestrated, and I didn’t want it to end. It was as if we were being given a real taste of things to come; there we were in a room filled with spectacular people who have achieved so much but are still sizzling with potential, some unrealised and others just emerging. It was exciting, significant, surreal. Enchanting.
So. Here you have the basics of what the On The Board programme offers. Whilst we travel through it together, everyone has their own journey and mine can be found on my next blog painting a picture of where I’m going and what I’m doing as a direct result of completing the programme. It really has been a life-changing experience.
To find out more about the Effective Board Member Programmes, visit effectiveboardmember.co.uk. You can also connect with us on Twitter @TheBoardEffect.