January 31, 2020
The former Marketing Director for PE-backed businesses Sea Life Centres, Fitness First and Simple talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about her new life as a plural Non-Executive Director
Alex Pike has coined a new phrase to describe the way she sees her role as a Non-executive director – Non Exec Plus.
She explains: “Most of the roles I take on are what I would call Non Exec Plus roles. In addition to the traditional remit of a Non Exec role, the organisations I am involved in want to access the experience and expertise that I have. I come in with a specialist skillset and a background of growing much smaller companies into much larger companies, and that kind of journey is very helpful to a lot of businesses.”
She adds: “For me it is not about turning up for tea and sandwiches; I really want to feel that I am part of businesses that I can make a real difference to, to stimulate a different kind of thinking and work with people I like on something that I am really passionate about.”
The experience Alex can bring to a business as a Non Exec Plus is impressive. During her executive career she was involved in selling three private equity-backed businesses in her role as Marketing Director; Sea Life Centres, which was sold to Vardon plc, gym chain Fitness First, which was sold to BC Partners, and beauty products business Simple, which was sold to Unilever.
She says: “My ability to understand what tools to get out of the box at any stage in a businesses growth is quite useful. I am now also programmed to think from the exit back. I think about what story we want to tell in five years’ time when I am standing up and helping to present the business, and then retrofit the strategy to fit the story.”
Being involved with private-equity backed businesses has also given her a keen awareness of the importance of not wasting money. She says: “If you have always invested your own money in a business, that programmes you to be very conscious about trying to make a little go a long way and to punch above your weight. It is important to use brains not budget, because as companies grow, everybody just wants to spend more money in order for it to grow, but that is where you lose a bit of the magic, because the real magic comes from doing things differently.”
Her determination to make a difference was however severely tested during the three years she spent with Unilever after taking up the role of Global Brand Vice President when they acquired Simple.
Alex says: “I realised very quickly that I was pretty good at driving a small fleet of speedboats but I had been put in charge of a massive oil tanker with an unwilling crew. It was much more difficult to make a difference in such a huge organisation because the wheels moved so slowly. I missed having an idea, making it happen tomorrow and seeing how well it worked the next day.”
She left Unilever in 2014 to build a plural portfolio and took her first step back into the world she loved when she became investor and Chair of Neom Organics, a health and beauty products business. Then in early 2019 Alex joined LDC-backed Neilson Holidays as Non-executive Director, where she has been helping them differentiate themselves in a crowded travel market.
She says: “I have been helping Neilson with their proposition, including their look and feel and working on some exciting added value propositions to further differentiate the customer experience. Having worked across different sectors, I can draw on what I know works in another category and help apply it in a tailored way to produce more impact and a greater return in investment.”
Alex is also a Non Executive Director at Teachers Building Society, a move inspired by the fact that both her husband and brother are teachers, and would consider taking on another NED role, providing it was in an organisation where she thought she could make a difference.
She thinks that other companies should embrace the idea of having a Non Exec Plus, saying: ”Every business today needs to draw on as much experience and expertise as they can and the Non Exec Plus option means that companies can plug into that expertise without having to carry the burden of cost. For me it makes total logical sense and I am surprised that more companies don’t do it.”
Drax Contact: Sebastian Twining
Associate Director, Consumer & Leisure
Tel: 020 3949 9568