Neil Stevenson

Neil Stevenson works in the legal and regulatory sector, currently as Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.  For the last ten years he has also held remunerated non-executive positions alongside his day job, having also held charity trustee positions soon after university.

Neil talks to CtC about his latest board appointment journey and how it builds on previous experience.

  1. Details of Board Appointment

In April 2017 I joined the Council of the Adverting Standards Authority, which manages complaints about almost all forms of advertising (including digital) in the UK.  I’ve always loved advertising and see it as a form of creative arts that is integral to a vibrant economy and consumer choice. The role builds on past experience in adjudication and wider regulatory experience from a past role on the Board of the General Dental Council.  The recruitment process involved a paper application with CV, a first round interview including being asked to express views on some individual adverts, and then a main interview with presentation.

  1. What attracted you to the role?

Perhaps three big things attracted me.  Firstly, I have genuinely loved and admired adverting as an art form since being a child – that ability to concisely convey a message and mood.  Secondly, I know it has huge social impact beyond the advertised product – the portrayal of LGBT people in adverts in the 90’s was part of what has been a massive culture change in social attitudes in that area, whereas I am still depressed that it appears only women can be used in adverts to sell cleaning products (an image we, and children, will be exposed to thousands of times a year, shaping our subconscious perceptions).  Finally, there was a geeky interest in terms of my regulatory career – the ASA has very little statutory basis compared to other places I have worked, and I was fascinated to get inside and see how it operated and maintained its excellent reputation as an effective regulator.

  1. What strengths, both personal and professional, did you highlight in the interview process?

The non-exec experience gained from an early career stage enabled me to offer significant breadth of board experience (and good examples of high performance, or how to deal with issues when things go wrong).  Getting involved as a charity trustee fairly soon after university and becoming a ‘younger person’ representative on a paid Board have helped hugely.  I never worried that I got that first break to aid diversity as there was mutual benefit and I’d encourage others to take opportunities early.  There are thousands of charities that need the support of trustees, and I have found it a rewarding way to give back as well as helping develop me as a person.  In interviews, I also always put some focus on the Board’s role to promote a ‘positive vision’ and to inspire exec colleagues; it’s too easy to simply focus on ‘holding management to account’, which is after all only one part of a non-exec’s role. I’d also encourage people to ‘be themselves’ (or ‘be authentic’, the current buzz word); they want to see a real person, comfortable in themselves, and able to fit into a board team.

  1. What were the benefits of approaching the role with the help of a Voluntary Mutual Support Group (CtC)?

Massive!  In attending CtC events there is a constant flow of ideas and real-life scenarios which you can draw on in applications and interviews.  You are motivated to apply and to maintain enthusiasm despite the inevitable knock back (everyone gets these!).  You have a pool of people who will help check your CV or application and share their experience without judging you for your ambitions.  You get to bounce around ideas about what you actually want out a non-exec role and if that is valid (I love Scotland, but for me a big part of it is also wanting an element of my career in London to be exposed to that bigger and more diverse landscape).

  1. What do you hope to achieve in the role?

My personal ambitions are, luckily, very aligned to the organisation’s.  We have just published work on gender stereotyping which I am incredibly proud of (the team did an amazing job!) and if I stay for a full six years I hope there might be a ‘second edition’ of that work in what is a fast-moving area in terms of social attitude.