Advisor Insights with Roger Phare: Founder, Director, Certified Chair™

Advisor Insights

Published 19 August 2021

Roger Phare has served as a director, executive, non-executive and advisory board member for multiple organisations, with his primary drivers being marketing and sales. As a founder and director of Pathfinders Associates, Roger assists IT and professional service organisations in seeing the way to controlled, profitable, sustainable and successful growth. Roger’s market-driven approach has seen him work in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, helping organisations to understand their strengths in order to establish and execute a plan for success. Roger is a highly sought-after professional, covering all aspects of organisational leadership, sales and marketing management, strategic planning, business process improvement, and solution sales within fast-paced leading-edge technology environments.

After working for a significant organisation in the UK, just over two years ago Roger moved home to Australia and started to slowly transition his career away from professional to a portfolio focus. During this journey he discovered the Advisory Board Centre and completed the Certified Chair course, crediting the best practice principles and support as having a monumental effect on his career. Roger likens an advisory board to be “the shoulder to lean on” for a business. With first-hand experience as an Advisor, he understands the inherent flexibility of advisory boards and how it enables a company to work through problems and find solutions, which can be difficult under a ‘traditionalist’ type of board structure.

In this Advisor Insights with Louise Broekman, Roger shares his belief that the most successful advisors are patient and flexible, they listen – not tell! He believes in the importance of utilising a resource network as he has found within the diverse Advisory Board Centre community.

The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

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Louise Broekman: Welcome to the Advisor Insights series, my name is Louise Broekman. I’m the founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Center. I’m here with Roger Phare today. He’s a Certified Chair™ and very experienced in Advisory Boards. Welcome, Roger. I’m very interested to start with a bit about your experience around Advisory Boards.

Roger Phare: Yes, well you know, I’ve spent a long career it, and particularly sales and marketing focused organizations. We did a stint in the UK with a major organization, came back just over two years ago now and decided I wanted to move more into the portfolio rather than professional background, I guess. And by accident I came across the Advisory Board Center, which at that time I think it is fair to say was still somewhat embryonic, but you know, I think it’s a great organization and has really sort of built my professional or portfolio career in the last two years around a lot of those principles and the organization itself.

Louise Broekman: That’s great. So you’ve been involved now on several Advisory Boards. What’s the impact that you’ve seen the Advisory Boards have had on the organizations that you’re supporting?

Roger Phare: Yes. Well, it provides a good deal of flexibility, particularly. And if we look at the Advisory Board charters, they are all about it’s there obviously to be the problem-solving board and particularly dare I say it the CEO’s best friend or, not necessarily friends, but the shoulder to lean on, which I think everybody acknowledges the traditional governance boards don’t really provide that based upon being decision-making boards and somewhat arm’s length. So I have seen significant obviously change and obviously improvements with all the organizations I’ve worked around and just understanding how the particularly growing organizations cope with that growth and then the organizational structures they need to go through.

Louise Broekman: It’s interesting, in the research I’ve conducted for our State of the Market report, the impact of Advisory Boards is in the measurement of the Business Growth Score. And the two key areas are business confidence and revenue and growth inside the business. Have you seen specific areas of impact on the Advisory Boards that you’ve seen actually on the owner themselves?

Roger Phare: Each one’s different? Dare I say it and it is the coming back to the problem solving, solution finding aspect of things. And with the in buzzer boats, I’ve been involved in a number of stable organizations and growing and looking at different growth opportunities. And certainly by that, right through to organizations that have got some dramas, dare I say it within, basic governance, shareholding ownership type issues, which were worked through. So it certainly varied. The major thing is to focus on the job at hand and particularly the charter of the Advisory Board itself.

Louise Broekman: Roger, we had the opportunity to work together on a presentation late last year around the growth of theme-based Advisory Board meetings. Do you want to give me some insight into that what’s worked for you?

Roger Phare: Yes, I mean the very nature of the Advisory Board structure is that as we say, it’s there to work through problems and obviously find solutions which is difficult to do under a traditionalist type board structure, whereby an agenda might come out and a little bit tongue in cheek. The items on a three-hour agenda might be everything from how do we do double-digit sales growth? How do we get an acquisition opportunity. We’ve got one of the shareholders who wish to exit the company, and we also need to do a title organization restructure, and that should cover a couple of hours and we all need to leave time for general business. It tends to be a rush around the houses if you like it, buy it based upon that. And what often happens is either there’s a deep dive into one of those topics and therefore every other topic doesn’t get addressed.

And a little bit dare I say, there’s a ‘talk fest’ or alternatively, it’s a restaurant in the houses, as I said, and we get skim across the top and agree to revisit it next board meeting. So, the thing based Advisory Board, I think we use the analogy, poor analogy, maybe of the hamburger the maintenance in the middle if you like, is the theme of the day, but let’s leave room around the bands around the outside to kit to do the other stuff, which is the other items at hand, maybe urgent items, plus follow-ups from the previous set. And I’ve experienced and had experience with some of the boards I’m on where that’s working very well to say that you know, it allows a good period of focus. It doesn’t mean it’s the only time it gets addressed. It may be revisited again and between two and six months, but it’s starting to gain traction in that area.

Louise Broekman: It’s a great way to keep the energy going with a group of people. You know, your Advisory Board might be 18 months, maybe three years, of working together to keep that energy going within the group.

Roger Phare: It also allows the concept of Advisory Boards where you’ve got project-based Advisory Boards or the term I like, ‘the pop-up Advisory Board’ type approach. You can start to integrate that in a way, as the challenge that a pop-up or project-based Advisory Boards is that they suddenly become parallel universes. And maybe the two parties are not involved, which can form a divide and conquer type thing, not deliberately, but this way you can invite subject matter experts, obviously from external other advisors, or as important key players/members of staff from the organization. If it’s an organizational restructure, you need to do could be head of HR, head of manufacturing and so on, if it’s something to do with an acquisition, then an external advisor who’s experienced in M&A could join the party.

Louise Broekman: And it kind of breaks the thinking that Advisory Board is a set structure when actually Advisory Boards are inherently flexible. Aren’t they? And so we’ve got to harness that opportunity.

Roger Phare: Yeah. It’s very true. It is a framework.

Louise Broekman: Freedom in a framework. I’m very interested in your top three tips. Roger, what are your top three tips personally for businesses that are looking to potentially have an Advisory Board?

Roger Phare: Yeah, the top three, I think the first is that you understand what it is you want. Heard so many stories saying, look, I set up an Advisory Board some time ago, and it didn’t work because I got a few people together who knew something, or I knew them, and we got together and we had a chat about various things. And the end of the day, I didn’t agree with some of the stuff I said. And I found I was doing all the work anyway. So it disbanded. And I hear that story so often. So it’s really understanding what it is you want. And that comes back to another good piece of material that the Advisory Board has, which is the Advisory Board charter. And rather than that, being a document, which everybody just hurriedly signs and puts it in a bottom drawer, some of that is self-evident, but the part which said were the objectives and goals and what we expect to see out of that, some important since this, the first area this, the second area I would say is to just take the fact that we, it, it still needs to be structured.

And whilst we talk about being flexible, taught by a framework, the Advisory Board should still be structured. It should still have minutes to what was talked about last time. It should have timeframes and therefore that’s the role of the chair to make sure they’re doing their job correctly. And the third thing, and I think this is probably common with both Advisory Boards and governance boards is the biggest area of frustration as an agreed set of actions happens out of the maintenance. And even, you know, it’s not decisions and Advisory Board case, but it could be actions that, and lo and behold, the next Advisory Board comes up and to, you know, two, three months ago, now we haven’t done any of that. We haven’t even looked at it to say: why? What we’ve in fact done is every two months, we’re going to have a ‘talk fest’, you know, so whilst actions don’t need to be by who, by when, and has that person done it and report everything, if at least addressing the issues that have been, and what are the outcomes from that? That’d be the third thing.

Louise Broekman: Yeah. Good. And three tips for advisors.

Roger Phare: The first is to be patient. I attend a lot of the forums and people have joined the Advisory Board and I’ve moved into a professional career portfolio career from perhaps a professional career or otherwise. And then 10 months later says, oh, this is hopeless. I haven’t got any I haven’t been invited to any Advisory Boards. I’ve employed it, or I’ve tried, it probably takes two years to build a reasonable portfolio and say, Louise, you’d be more experienced than I at this one, but that would be my feel before you get real traction. So being patient is the first thing you know, the second one is to be flexible. Because every problem you’re going to solve. You know, it’s listening rather than telling so much, that sort of thing.

And also particularly if you’re moving into the role of a chair understand where you use the resource network that we have within the Advisory Board or other networks, you have to call in expertise when you need it, because yes, everybody believes there they know a little bit about all the topics, but if it’s a particular interest, you know there’s one or two people I work with, particularly in the merger and acquisition space and these people do this day in, day out, you know, I’m aware of it. I’ve been involved in a lot of it, but these are the people you want to be able to do. That might be in the legal space. It might be organizational restructure. It might be whatever, but use the resources available as well.

Louise Broekman: It’s good counsel. And I guess that’s why for the Advisory Board Center itself, the diversity of our community is so important because you’re right, we all have limits, we need to understand the ethical boundaries of where we should be providing advice and when we shouldn’t be.

Roger Phare: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.

Louise Broekman: Roger, thank you so much for not only sharing your insights but also the good work that you’re doing out there in making a difference. So, thank you for sharing your insights today.