MBA Board-Room Profile: Harp Gosal

Harp Gosal

Can you tell us more about your experience of working on a board/on boards?

Directors and Board members are regulated by law and there are strict rules applied on how we behave. Although working for a company which has Limited Liability. Directors can still be personally liable if they have practiced with wrong-doing or which conflicts with the best practices for the benefit of the company. Operational and strategic decisions are made at the Board level where the Directors of the company are essentially stirring the ship.

What board positions have you held?

I have been appointed to two board-level positions during my career to date:

  • WorldGallery.co.uk Ltd – Co-Founder
  • MindLink Software Ltd – originally called FCG, I started as the Head of Engineering and Product development. When we incorporated MindLink Software in 2011 with a new name/brand, I Co-founded the rebooted venture and I was invited to join the board as the Chief Technology Officer

Does being a good executive director readily translate into being a strong board member?

Yes they both have to work in twine. A bad/weak leader with no tact or strategy behind his/her thought process will fail. Activities on the Board level are not taken lightly. Any vote or motion you opt for is a consequence for the company as well as your career. I have a very good personal example/case to illustrate this point.

What do you think can be gained from an MBA that specifically prepares you to work with, for, or on the board?

I’ve never done an MBA but we had a chap who joined the board after completing his MBA (before MindLink was incorporated as MindLink). MBA’s are great with theory, it taught him a little about strategy formulation and how to read financials etc. But he struggled, and the reason being was his personal traits let him down and the fact he lacked industry experience and domain knowledge. So MBA’s are great at giving post-graduates a foundation. But MBA post-grads shouldn’t assume they can or will be able to walk through the door and get on the board. It’s much more complicated than that.  Having said all this, the new MBA board-room concept developed at Westminster may go some way towards bridging that gap with the practical experience it affords participants on the course.

What are the three most exciting reasons to work on a board?

  1. You get a “birds eye-view” of the entire company and operation
  2. You formulate strategies which will help steer business.
  3. You get involved with budgetary elements of the business.

Can you tell us more about working on a board – what exactly it entails and who you work with. (E.g. is this a full time role? How often do you meet? What sort of work does it typically involve?

On our Board we have our Chair and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Technology Officer (myself), Chief Marketing Officer, and three Non-Exec Directors who work as external advisories within our industry.

We meet at the mid-point of each month. General theme is our CFO covers off the finances – Sales Revenue/Costs etc. and drafts a view of the month as well as projects and forecasts the next 3-6 months. This requires collaboration from our CEO, Sales Team/CRM system and Accounts and Finance department to help collate the necessary data and information. The CFO also covers off shareholder and employee matters concerning shares, options and tax cases.

We then step through Sales pipeline to discuss up/coming business that we need to engage and close. And we decide on the tact and resourcing required for this. The plan is then passed down to the senior management after the board meeting to execute. We also have a marketing update – events, press releases, conferences etc. The engineering update is managed by me – which details the product roadmap, engineering activities taking place to support the roadmap, operational issues (we have two sites – London and Cyprus) that we need to decide/vote on. And then we cover off HR/Operations. But the most exciting board meetings which are usually much longer and in-depth are the strategy board meetings.

We cover off the plan for the company and where we wish to head based upon factors such as our vision, values and mission statement as our foundation – “who we are”. And we take a scientific approach to look at the market, using market research and validation, benchmark competition, product roadmaps, resources we have to execute etc. to help us come to making key decisions. When the board cannot come to a decision on something very critical – we usually poll for a vote. The majority wins.

Do you have any (possibly quirky) anecdotes that you would like to share about your board experiences?

I have a few stories to share J board meetings can become a playground sometimes.

What are the main differences between working for the board and being an executive director?

Generally an executive director like a CEO reports to the Board. But on a day to day, we all report to the CEO. But board meetings are there to put the CEO on the spotlight.

If you’ve worked in different sectors (e.g. start-up, third sector, public sector, private sector) on boards, were there any noticeable differences?

Yes, there are differences. For example, the first company I co-founded (WorldGallery.co.uk Ltd) which was privately funded by the Chairman, the board meetings were different feeling, very much closer to a senior management meeting due to the size and scale of the company which was a start-up of 30 people. MindLink is classed as a small-to-medium sized established company with external and internal shareholders so things are done properly so to speak.

What pieces of advice would you give someone who wanted to work their way up to board level?

Work hard and deliver results and work honestly! Compliance is a big thing in organizations in the City and across the globe. Also Networking is key!!

You will be put on the spot sometimes almost like you’re on trial. And sometimes you need to make some tough decisions for the company and they must be planned and executed in accordance with the law and in the interest of benefiting the company or else it can impact your personal life and career which would be at stake. In all of this the key thing to remember: everyone must be working for the welfare and benefit of the company and not for themselves.

What personal/professional qualities do you believe are necessary to develop if you want to become a successful board member?

You need to be a domain expert in your discipline (knowledge and common sense is key!!), passionate, energetic, confident, strong and a creative/dynamic leader to join the board. Avoid ego – I’ve seen Directors fall because of this. Be smart and understand the business, rather than dictate to people that you are smart and bully them to do something. The worst nightmare a leader of a company must face is when their own staff to think that this person is a complete moron. Be a team player – listen to the bottom and the top!! – comes down to being smart!

There is currently a lot of focus on board diversity. Do you think that having high levels of diversity is always a good thing, or can too much diversity hinder the work done by a board?

There is currently a lot of focus on board diversity. Do you think that having high levels of diversity is always a good thing, or can too much diversity hinder the work done by a board?

Yes I agree, we have two women on the board together with a mixture of cultures represented. Everyone literally brings something new to the table.

Thank you to Harp Gosal for these board-room insights and to our Social Media Officer, Faye Murphy, for organising and conducting the interview.   

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