Ian Wright, founder and chief executive of NonExecutiveDirectors.com, is bringing together SMEs and NEDs - without the hefty recruitment fees.
I wasn't on the road to Damascus or anything like that (actually, I think it was the M62) but after more than 10 years of high-level experience working with the private equity fraternity, recruiting executive directors in to a range of businesses around transactions, it struck me forcibly that there was a cruel irony surrounding the whole area of non-executive recruitment.
The very companies that were most in need of NEDs - start-ups and SMEs - were least likely to afford the recruitment fees. So I realised that if a way could be found to pre-empt those recruiter fees then many companies would be eager to become involved.
The aim was to disrupt a market that serves to penalise ambitious business owners for wishing to add extra talent to their boards without being hit with huge recruitment fees - often in the £20,000 range. And so I developed the rationale behind NonExecutiveDirectors.com.
Bring together the two sides - companies and potential non-execs - in a mutually beneficial website and you have a forum for the seekers and the sought. The uniqueness of that concept is a simple one: the seeker can be either company or non-exec. So can the sought. Our network is completely revolutionising the non-executive director recruitment market as it makes finding and engaging NEDs completely free.
Now, after a relatively short time, NonExecutiveDirectors.com has grown to become the largest UK online network of non-executives, with over 3,000 searches of our members every day, typically by SMEs looking at some form of transaction (buy and build or exit).
There are over 150,000 monthly views of the site, the majority of which are of member profiles. Members pay a nominal annual fee to join and build their search engine optimised profile for companies (and, ironically, head-hunters) to connect with. For companies wishing to become part of the community and benefit from the thousands of profiled potential NEDs, there is, of course, no cost - but immense value!
The demand for improved corporate governance and the increasing onus on the responsibilities of board membership mean even greater opportunities for non-exec involvement in company strategy; it means companies who know exactly the qualities they are looking for (someone with a contact list to die for, for instance) now know exactly where to look for him or her.
These are exciting times for our company. We launched our US brand in New York in November 2013 - outsidedirectors.net - and the concept from across the pond has been met with overwhelming transatlantic enthusiasm!
This last year, the journey has been hugely rewarding - if at times more than a little breathless. There's a genuine appetite for change out there and our membership base is growing rapidly. New markets are opening all the time. But not only that, minds are opening up, too. Once-suspicious CEOs are now much more amenable to the idea of bringing in people whose targeted expertise can only strengthen their company, raising both its profile and its profitability.
For me it's personal. And it's business.