10 things we learned from Debbie Hewitt MBE

10 things: Debbie Hewitt MBE

Many of us in our careers will have presented to a board, been grilled by some seriously fierce people and in some cases, we may get to be that director delivering the heat. Very few of us will have a career like Debbie Hewitt, a successful CEO turned “plural” non-exec Director and board chair.

As part of our business leader breakfast series, a group of Marketing Society members gathered over coffee and pastries to hear what is takes to be a successful leader, but also what it means to be a member and leader of the board of a major brand.

  1. Always understand how a business makes money. There is a difference between P&L and the balance sheet and it is often the board’s role to explain that, or at least understand it.
  2. There is no divide between the executive team and the non-executive board. Both should have the culture of the company at the heart of everything they do and both are equally accountable for that.
  3. Risk management is not simply about trying to predict when bad things will happen, sometimes fraud is unforeseeable and if you trust people, which is essential, you are at risk.
  4. Understand the difference between opinion and fact – both from those you listen to and in the way you express yourself. We have a tendency to express our opinion forcibly and a desire to be seen as decisive, but this can lead a business astray.  As Debbie said “hold a strong opinion lightly”. Beware of the “HIPPO” the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”, it is not always right, although it is often hard to oppose.
  5. Strategy is vital, but more important is the execution of it. A brilliantly executed average strategy, beats an incredibly strategy that nobody follows.
  6. Find role models, find mentors, and be one yourself but find ones that are “uncomfortable”. Be challenged and be challenging, you learn nothing from people who do not challenge you.
  7. As a board director- show me don’t tell me.
  8. Be brave and have integrity. Debbie has had to resign from boards for taking a position opposed to her colleagues that she honestly held. Perhaps agreeing with the majority would have meant a quieter life but it would not have been courageous.
  9. Don’t put off that decision that has been nagging at you. What is going on in our heads is often much worse than reality. Ask yourself about that nagging problem: “Will it really matter? You will make mistakes, but your scars make you stronger. Don’t dwell on what could have been, if you let your past define you, you won’t enjoy your future in six months’ time”.
  10.  And finally: “If you have never asked a stupid question, you aren’t trying hard enough”.

Alex Ricketts is Head of Membership at The Marketing Society. To learn more about us or join our network, please get in touch.

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