Eilish Finan, CDir

Éilish Finan is the recent winner of the Chartered Director Award 2015. Éilish was honoured at the IoD Chartered Director Programme Awards in recognition of her accomplished career in the financial services sector and her commitment to continuous professional development, high standards and integrity in the boardroom.

What non-executive positions do you currently hold on boards in Ireland?

I am a non-executive director serving on the boards of JP Morgan Bank Ireland plc, New Ireland Assurance Company, Social Finance Foundation and New Technology Insurance. I also serve on a number of asset management entities across a variety of asset classes.

Tell us about your career background and some of the milestones along the way

I studied engineering at Trinity College Dublin and once qualified I trained with KPMG as a Chartered Accountant. After some years with KPMG I joined AIG Global Investment; a new start-up in a very embryonic IFSC environment. I spent 17 years in AIG as CFO & Executive Director. During my time there the firm’s activities expanded to cover Investment & Fund Management, Trust & Custody, Securities Lending, Property Management etc.

Essentially the firm served as a centre of excellence covering a wide sweep of financial services products aimed at the global client market. This offered me a challenging and rewarding journey, an entrepreneurial environment and a typical bottom line performance driven culture. I took up my first non-executive position shortly after leaving AIG and my portfolio of directorships has emerged over time.

What are your professional motivations and aspirations?

Key to my motivation is working in a challenging, entrepreneurial and open culture with people whom I admire and trust. A dynamic and innovative environment extracts energy and high performance from everyone. I enjoy being involved in strategically ambitious organisations where progress and the journey of success brings benefit to all stakeholders. My personal aspiration is to participate as a leader on this journey, to add value and challenge along the way.

In your experience, what are the key attributes of successful directors?

A strong director adds critique, challenge and sound judgment to a board and offers leadership through collaboration with the executive team. A non-executive director needs senior executive experience, conviction, strong independence, pragmatism, capacity and commitment.

It is important that the collective chemistry works across a board. Cultural fit, a strong value sense and integrity are critical for all directors. Challenge and curiosity should be natural to a director and this should be coupled with a collaborative style and a determination to bring the organisation along a journey of success.

What role can non-executive directors play in driving performance and effectiveness?

Performance starts with a robust strategy which the board must own and ensure its execution by the organisation’s executives. A non-executive should be an independent thinker and should challenge to extract the best strategy and ultimately ensure that this strategy is executed with a risk balanced focus. An independent non-executive director (INED) should ensure that the organisation has the capacity and resources to deliver on objectives. They should, together with the collective board, oversee the achievement of pre-defined milestones and objectives and guide the organisation’s return to shareholders and to all stakeholders. Tail winds and emergence of unexpected events will arise and the board’s role is to continuously guide and challenge while offering support to the executive and to the organisation.

How would you describe your contribution around the boardroom table?

An individual’s contribution at a board table is best measured by others and ultimately the success of the organisation. I endeavour to be independently minded and courageous as a director. I am mindful of the need to listen and reflect. Challenge is part of the job and pragmatism and collaboration are essential complimentary tools. The board and the executive are a team and strategically guiding an organisation requires many skills and a well-balanced diversified board. My contribution, I hope, is to be a strong independent voice within what is ultimately a collaborative board team.

What, in your view, sets the Chartered Director qualification apart?

Formal training as a director gives one certainty and knowledge of one’s responsibility and rights as a non-executive director. The Chartered Director Programme offers a theoretical backdrop to a role that is ultimately heavily reliant on personal integrity and the ability of the board to embed a positive culture and value system into an organisation.

A key message from the Programme is the need for a director to be aware of their individual responsibility and to contribute to the collective responsibility of the board, driving the tone from the top in the best interest of all stakeholders. I considered the Programme to be a deep dive into best practice in corporate governance. It was a challenging Programme and has positioned me with a deeper knowledge and understanding of the role of a director in a broader more general sense.

It has complemented my experience as an Executive Director. The peer learning aspect of the Programme was particularly enjoyable. The course attendees displayed diversity of thinking, diversity of skills, cultural diversity and gender diversity, much like a well-balanced executive team and board. Becoming a Chartered Director has been a differentiator in my ability to be appointed to boards and in my ability to perform the INED role well.