Becoming a non-exec after an executive career
Jon Griffin spent the last 20 years as CEO of JP Morgan Asset Management in Luxembourg before his retirement in 2020. He is now the independent non-executive chairman of the boards of Blackrock ‘s Management Company in Luxembourg and Credit Suisse’s UCITS fund range in Luxembourg. Jon gave his insight of how he managed this transition, speaking to Steven Libby, a partner at PwC.
He said an important part of the process for him was to take some time away from executive life, before contemplating re-entry as a non-exec. Make a break, and mentally prepare for the demands of the new role. “As an executive your natural propensity is to be into the weeds of issues and challenges, whereas as a non-exec you should be taking a step back and being clear on what is for you versus what should be the domain of executive management to take care of,” he said. “Creating a time barrier was one element that helped me adjust.”
Going back to study and upskilling is also part of this transition process, and Jon took the Certified Investment Fund Director (CIFD) program run by the IOB in Ireland which is focused on investment fund governance. ILA has recently launched the Fund Governance Masterclass which he said appeared to have a similar curriculum and focus. “This course gave me a better comprehension of the broader world out there, important practical points of view from other professionals because the JP Morgan way was the only way I knew,” he said. Remaining curious and ensuring you are up-to-speed with new developments is a vital part of the role, he added, as the industry is becoming more complicated.
He said there was little danger of losing touch, as being based in Luxembourg he naturally maintained many of his contacts and network, including doing some work with a fund services start up. He stressed that it is important to be patient when considering to enter the iNED space and wait for the directorship opportunities that come along that align with your own risk appetite.
Jon added that he appreciated first-hand the work corporate governance officers and corporate secretaries do onboarding NEDs. “They play an important role for non-execs, as in the corporate environment executives have all the support they need, but of course all this goes away when you become independent,” he said. More generally, he also mentioned their important work assuring communication flows between the boards of funds and ManCos.
Steven asked him how he has found the experience of being on a board, and whether it is preferable to have a permanent chair. Jon said that he has only had experience working with permanent chairs, and said he appreciated the levels of interaction, continuity and organization it brings.
As for whether boards should have at least two independent directors, Jon said it was a question of ensuring value is being added beyond achieving a number. “An investment fund versus a Management Company should be a pretty straightforward business: at the highest level to deploy investor capital in line with the strategy,” Jon said. Increasingly promoter firms are assessing their Fund Governance requirements and in the mix of that is the role of independent directors whatever the number. Having independent directors with the requisite experience is increasingly acknowledged as a sign of commitment by the company to a higher level of corporate governance practice.