Meet Caroline Hayward – Founder & CEO of The Chairman’s Network.
Caroline is currently the CEO of The Chairman’s Network, the international collaborative business Network connecting Chairs, CEOs, Non -Executive Directors, Advisory Boards, and Board Directors in the UK and Internationally. The Chairman’s Network enhances business collaboration by connecting Boards and Directors to do more and better business through engaging and educational Zoom events.
Caroline is also the Founder and CEO of Hayward & Associates Executive Search. Today Hayward & Associates Ltd acts as an Adviser in Executive Search and an intermediary, appointing Board Roles- both Executive and Non- Executive in all sectors as well as senior technology and manufacturing roles UK/Internationally.
Caroline is passionate about supporting SME business UK and Internationally to create more and better business opportunities for all. She is also at the forefront of supporting more women in top roles on Boards and in business, particularly in the STEM sectors. She is a software, digital, technology, and Board expert in her Executive Search practice.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Caroline Hayward: I’m an entrepreneur having built my Technology Executive Search business up to over £1m in fees before we hit the dotcom bubble, 911 and in my case divorce which hit me and the business for six- with most of our global technology clients based in the US pulling out and exhaustion- I had 2 sons under the age of 10.
I had already set up the Chairman’s Network as the networking arm of my search business and a few years ago I decided to re-engineer it taking it from technology only to all sectors (nearly all sectors are technology now anyway); sourcing an integrated Membership, CRM and events platform and now we are 100% on Zoom – taking it International.
It has been an exciting, stimulating, and fun few years. I am meeting senior people all over the World; we are engaging and connecting them on one platform and via 8 events per month; most of my Hosts are my Members- we have many experts in the network.
Since lockdown and Zoom – they say most successful businesses have luck and timing on their side- we haven’t looked back. We pivoted within the week and to great effect- it has improved the Member experience because all your Business Networking is covered off online in up to 8 sessions a month- and given us the ability to scale Internationally.
I started The Chairman’s Network originally because I was marginalized at many of the Technology Industry events. I paid the same as the others but was never invited to tables one to three where the technology CEOs were sat. I was always on the last table- table 11 typically with other search firms, accountants, and lawyers. We had a great time- but I didn’t meet any prospects. Additionally, as a woman in STEM, there were very few of us then (the ’90s) and we have been marginalized again.
At The Chairman’s Network, everybody has equal standing- whether a 24-year-old entrepreneur or an experienced Chair and we have no top tables.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Caroline Hayward: If you’re trying to do something different and better, as I was, you have to keep faith in yourself and your proposition whilst allowing yourself to pivot or change, if it makes sense. The Chairman’s Network was originally a physical 2-hour lunch in top London hotels with guest speakers hosting the after-lunch session. It was great but it’s not what we want or need today. Now it’s online with Boards and Directors joining from all over the World.
You really do have to have great clarity around your proposition- working through all the What If scenarios and your Modus Operandi so that you have answers for most things. I like visualization- what will it look like? How will it work? why will people join? What is our USP? What will it actually look like?
I’m backing myself both with the strategy and the money- we have no external finance as yet- so there have been some stressful months especially at re-launch when essentially, you just have a concept and a platform and no money.
I’m clearly a risk-taker and mostly this has paid off but there are times…..
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Caroline Hayward: In my search practice we would sometimes meet Founder/Entrepreneurs that had done so well for so long that they now believed they were invincible- to the point of dangerous arrogance. Often they would hit the wall further down the line – taking Counsel from nobody, not even the Chair or Investors. There would inevitably be a Day of Reckoning.
As regards Business Networking- do we ever have enough business connections? I meet many Chairs/NED’s and some with the old school views of ” I have enough of a network- everybody I need is in my network” or ” I never pay for networking- it’s not worth it” or ” I’m too busy for networking”. In fact, good business connections, as well as knowledge and access to expertise, are the cornerstones of a strong and diverse Board and Business.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Caroline Hayward: Partly answered in a previous question but yes, absolutely and positively! Our Members join and pay via the platform so technically still shopping- and this has become the norm rather than the exception.
For us, the transition to Zoom has been fundamental. I always knew it was possible- but I didn’t think the Members would embrace it- and now they have to if they want to continue doing business. Some left at the start of the pandemic because they only wanted real-life meetings. Many of those have now returned- it’s convenient, cost-effective, and now a lot more natural to meet people online- especially for an initial introduction. After that, you can meet again as you wish.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Caroline Hayward: I visualize a Global Online Business Network for Board Directors. That is the BHAG- Big Hairy Audacious Goal. We can see it happening organically and gradually. Can I really connect with people in Dubai, the States, etc online and actually meet them and start building a relationship? Those connections could foster significant business benefits that last for decades and can underpin the success or failure of a business.
We’re aiming for scale whilst also maintaining the caliber of our Members- you have to be an Executive or Non-Executive Board- Level executive to join. Over 40% of our Members are recommendations but we are constantly introducing the concept to senior executives all over the world via Zoom-based ” How to Engage ” sessions- one of my better ideas!
We now have an infinitely scalable proposition
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Caroline Hayward: My answer would be:
- Focus- once I had my vision and proposition nailed (in my head and then on the platform). I had to keep at it for long enough to know whether it had legs. Was it viable? Would people pay? Was it saleable? Had I created it as best as it could be?
- Self Confidence- You have to back yourself at times. People said “Close it Down- it will never pay” but actually that has driven me even harder to prove them wrong. You have to stick with your vision and make it pay as a viable alternative to any other competitors or quasi competitors. But you also have to accept at some point, if it is just not viable, and be decisive- even though that may also be a painful exercise.
- Hard work- How can I make some money today? Today and every day. Constant focus on sales and revenue plus the Members and the quality of their experience. Innovation- trying new things and ideas and a constant focus on improvement. A small change can make a big difference. Listen to your customer feedback- don’t forget to ask them
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Caroline Hayward: Yes, certainly. I’m an entrepreneur encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship as well as Women in Business/on Boards/ in STEM, diversity, and lifelong learning for all.
My business encapsulates all of this and I’m leading from the front where possible and actually in a very proactive way by building a diverse international business network.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Caroline Hayward: I like empowerment. Hiring bright and motivated individuals and allowing them the opportunity to add value and take responsibility. It’s more rewarding for all of us and as a grey-preneur the younger digital-native views and opinions are important to the success of the network.
I’ll embrace a few mistakes along the way to get the best out of people and encourage innovative thinking
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Caroline Hayward: I’m from a middle-class suburban family where both parents worked hard on separate businesses. I remember counting the money from my mother’s shop as a small child. My father was CEO of a Charity and he would leave me alone as a child to run his stall at various fairs and events as I sold so much – so I think it started early. I’m always thinking of ways that I could improve things.
But you have to live with the risks and mitigate them against the opportunity. On balance I think an entrepreneur is born and the environment you’re brought up in enhances that ( or not). I think your appetite for risk or safety shows itself early.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Caroline Hayward: Make each day as good as it can be. Embrace any success or fun however small so that you remain positive and open to all possibilities. Look after yourself and try to balance work and pleasure.
I suppose the Life Lesson may be ” Remain equanimous”. I once meditated in India and the guru said this to us every day.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Caroline Hayward for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Caroline Hayward or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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