Take a look the latest member success story from Francois Charles du Plessis
Francois du Plessis started his professional career in the pay television sector in South Africa before moving in to the mobile telecoms arena in the early 90s. After overseeing the launch of Rwanda’s first mobile network and steering Uganda’s biggest payphone network as CEO for 5 years, Francois moved into feasibility consultancy and fintech.
After moving to the UK in 2016, he joined In Touch, taking part in our acclaimed Ahead of the Curve (AOTC) personal development course, before going on to acquire a portfolio of non-executive roles. Read on to find out how Francois adjusted to the British business scene, and what he took away from his time on AOTC.
Why did Francois embark on a portfolio career?
In 2016, Francois and his wife relocated from South Africa to Scotland. Realising that he was not ready to fully retire, he set about getting to grips with his new life and the prospect of a portfolio career:
‘I didn’t know a single soul and I knew nothing about the business environment or the culture here,’ he says. His experience of the UK was limited to occasional international remittance work in London, dealing mainly with the Zimbabwean diaspora and the FCA. He soon grasped that this niche experience wouldn’t get him far in his search for non-executive roles.
How did Francois find his experience on AOTC?
‘I joined Ahead of the Curve very soon after I arrived in the UK as I realised I actually knew very little and that I needed help if I was to get anywhere.’ Francois adds that he ‘really enjoyed the course’ and found it offered a huge range of positives for someone embarking on a portfolio career, not least the knowledge that there are many others in similar situations.
‘I understood that I wasn’t the only one struggling with where I’d found myself and that it wasn’t about adjusting to a new country. There were some really senior people, with long international careers on the programme and we were all floundering a little.’ Regardless of whether the move in to a portfolio career had been planned or not, the AOTC cohort had all found their new direction difficult in different ways.
‘To go from a high-flying international career to nothing, to standing still in the space of a month is really very difficult and a massive shock. For me, learning that there were plenty of other people in the same boat was a relief’.
The broad skill base that AOTC provided was something Francois started putting to immediate use. ‘I learned more about how to present yourself - your brand - and we had lots of coaching on how to write a CV for a non-executive role’, something that, as a natural self-critic, he struggled with.
Alongside the comprehensive grounding in governance and non-executive behaviours, Francois particularly enjoyed the networking aspect of AOTC. After the programme was complete, the group met up in person.
‘Meeting face-to-face was brilliant - we had a group dinner in Chester, discussed potential business ventures and built on the time we had spent together on the programme’. The networking skills Francois learnt on the course would play a huge role in every one of the subsequent non-executive roles he gained.
What was Francois first step towards a non-executive director role?
Alongside participating in AOTC, Francois joined a local social enterprise network who specialise in advising Social Enterprises in grant writing, governance and skill-sharing. He immediately found value in this, as after attending an event with the network’s CEO, he landed a business advisory role with a local charity, Crossing Countries.
The organisation conducts disability awareness workshops in Scotland and were an organisation that resonated with Francois: ‘Each year they send a team of both disabled and non-disabled people from Edinburgh to Natal, in South Africa, to share skills and experiences. It’s an opportunity for both communities to learn about the very different worlds they live in’.
Francois went on to gain a further two non-executive roles, both via contacts he had made through networking, and is also the Chair of a Community Benefit Society. He describes the process of building his portfolio as a case of ‘each role opening a door to another as I was introduced to various new networks’.
Francois has recently been promoted to Vice Chair of Edinburgh Social Enterprise, and is a proponent of both pro-bono and third-sector roles to build a non-executive skill set and a portfolio career. ‘The sector gives a great grounding as a non-executive in terms of knowledge and getting to grips with the responsibilities and liabilities of being a non-executive director. You have to learn a huge amount quickly but it is really enriching’.
Francois’ advice to anyone looking into a portfolio career? ‘Make sure your values match, make sure you feel it fits. A non-executive role is the opportunity - probably for the first time in your life - for you to pick what you want to do and engage with something you choose to do.’