Caroline Worboys – “The Data NED”
In a modern business world that often lacks real Data expertise at Board level, Caroline Worboys is a trend setter. Sitting on the boards and being an investor in many successful rapid growth firms she has carved out a niche for herself as a Data Expert and “The Data NED”.
With the market requiring an increasing number of ‘Data Experts’ to fill Board, NED & advisory roles, Caroline tells us about how she forged her successful Board & NED career, and how you can to.
Hi Caroline, tell us about your career before you got started as an NED?
My path to becoming a NED began in my 20s when I fell into the direct marketing industry. I had no real progression plan but I found I had an aptitude for the data and technical part of the job which led to rapid promotion and was the ultimate kick-starter of my career.
Today data has risen up the marketing pecking order, but back then it most definitely was not the sexy or exciting end of the industry. However, despite its nerdy reputation I was convinced of its importance when it came to bolstering a brand’s bottom line. I therefore made a conscious decision to stay in data, whilst all those around me were drawn to the glamour of agencies – but I’ve always gone for the path less trodden! I worked in various businesses always focusing on Single Customer View databases and analytics. This was with a wide variety of clients and always with data that was hard to obtain and work with. It was a great foundation. It ultimately led to me starting my own database marketing business, HDM Worboys, which I sold to News International. I worked on merging my business with other entities within the News International stable and the result was Broadsystem, an outsourced marketing services provider. I stayed on as CEO of Broadsystem for eight years managing several sites and over 500 staff. We were trailblazers creating real-time services in an analogue age, such as TV voting through SMS shortcode. Broadsystem was sold again and combined with another entity from which we started and created Callcredit, now one of the largest marketing services providers and credit referencing agencies in the UK. After selling Callcredit to private equity, I left and decided to go to the other side – finally experience agency life and global exposure, at Wunderman, part of WPP.
How did you get your start as a NED?
I started out working in an unpaid position as a Trustee of the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing) and later as Chair for over a decade before we sold this business to the DMA Group, of which I am now Vice Chair. It is still for free! However, such positions despite the lack of earnings, offer much in return from networking to learning about different business styles and models. It also bolsters your credibility in the industry which in turn helps you attract other opportunities. I found that many businesses want support and experience, however not all are in a position to pay. I therefore started by either investing or working for equity.
What are the key areas of Expertise you bring to companies in a Non-Executive capacity?
Most businesses I interact with are interested in my data knowledge. I have been fortunate in that my career in data has covered a wide gamut from martech, adtech, fintech and all sources of data from social, digital, credit and customer. This has been important as many organisations are facing difficult decisions around how to drive value from data and from the technologies that exist, so my experience is relevant. Many businesses are also interested in the connections I have or knowledge and judgement I can bring to bear on key decisions. Ultimately the benefit I bring to the table is either helping businesses avoid going down a dead-end due to lack of domain expertise, or helping them find ways to generate incremental revenue by driving more value from the resources they already have.
Tell us about your current portfolio of companies?
My investments are now in three stages: mature, growing and early stage and mostly I have been with them since the beginning.
In the mature space, there is Market Invoice and Comply Advantage which are both in Fintech, and Elvie, a women’s health tech company.
In the growth category is OnePulse, a market research organisation and Alchemetrics, a marketing services business.
And finally, a CRM agency; Thread, is in the early stage.
What advice would you give to other Senior Data Experts who are looking for their first Non- Executive position?
Firstly, start as early as you can. Like anything worth having, it takes time to build. Decide if you want a NED role in an established organisation or if you prefer a more agile start-up. Find out if you can work with industry bodies or other organisations where you can hone your skills. This can help before you have to compete for the best positions against other potentially more experienced candidates. Strategically think about where you can add the most value and may have experience which is relatively unique but of great value to that organisation. Most need guidance, reassurance and real experience both in running a business and financially managing one. They also need diplomacy, flexibility, commitment and reliability.
Can you give us your insights into the time commitments of Non-Executive positions?
My experience is that mostly there are the regular governance meetings, some strategic review meetings and then a degree of ‘always on’ depending on the business. I tend to check in on a regular basis between meetings and try to be available as much as possible. I am also flexible and happy to help with side projects, where appropriate. Probably the hardest thing is that everyone tends to have their governance or reviews at similar times, so a pure NED existence can be busy at peaks and pretty quiet in between.
You were recently appointed as COO of Outra. Tell us about the company’s vision?
We were inspired to set up Outra, as we expect radical change whilst businesses come under pressure to drive more value from their data in order to be competitive whilst GDPR shakes up the market.
Our vision is to create a new type of data and analytics platform which gives brands greater control of their data, by bringing world class predictive science, data and tech together to connect them directly to their customers. We do this by analysing opinions and insights so that we learn from the past, optimise the present and shape the future.
What are you plans for the future?
I don’t ever think I will call myself retired, I think it may even be an outmoded concept soon. I plan to keep working as flexibly and with as much pleasure and fun as I can for as long as I can. I am no smarter than anyone else, however what I do have is a great deal of experience and I am, at heart a person who nurtures people and who shares. Therefore I will remain committed to helping where I can and sharing my knowledge where that may be of value to others. I wish I had trusted help when I was running my own business and whilst I went through various ownership situations!
If you’d like to contact Caroline you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about Board & Non-Executive work in the Data Sector – https://wyatt.partners/board-first/