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New board role for Cambridge EMBA alumna

Executive MBA (EMBA) alumna Dr Bola Grace reflects on her appointment to the board of Levin Sources, in the minerals sector. She explains how her education and career so far have led her to the role, offering advice to other Executive MBA (EMBA) students interested in serving as a non-executive director.

Dr Bola Grace.

Dr Bola Grace (EMBA 2019) has been appointed to the board of Levin Sources, as a non-executive director. She describes her role as a “critical friend”, providing strategic direction to the executive team through monitoring and advice. Bola, who has a PhD from UCL in Population Health and Epidemiology and lists several highly regarded professional certifications and visiting faculty roles among her achievements, founded Orishi, which provides inclusive innovations solutions.

Bola took on the role in June 2021, following a successful career combining management and academia in the biotech and healthcare sectors. With this industry background, it might seem something of a knight’s move to take a board-level role at Levin Sources: a social enterprise in the minerals sector. Yet Bola, who describes herself as “a lifelong learner” with a “portfolio career” is excited to take on the challenge of a board level role in a completely new industry, offering opportunities to gain new perspectives and a deeper understanding of how organisations function, and to extend her strategic network. She says she was impressed by the firm’s ethical commitments, saying that “they practice what they preach.”

Bola said, “I’ve been working on a diversity leadership project for some time, so when I saw the advert on LinkedIn, I immediately reached out to the poster to see if I’d be a good fit,” having previously found serving on advisory boards and scientific committees “a very rewarding experience”.

While Bola came into the interview “prepared to convince the execs of the value I bring, coming from a different industry, by complementing the board’s skills,” she found board members already receptive to taking on candidates from diverse industry backgrounds. Levin Sources’ CEO, Estelle Levin Nally says that “we are actually very open to someone from a completely different industry,” telling Bola that the firm value her leadership experience in biotech.

Bola explains, “Coming from a heavily regulated industry, I’m used to working in a fast-paced environment, providing technical and commercial direction on complex programmes, and focussing on risk management. There are so many transferable skills like strategic thinking; decisive judgement; crisis management; pragmatic approach to decision making; and emotional intelligence in the boardroom.”

Bola pointed to the role of the EMBA programme in enabling her to go for this role saying, “The EMBA has been a learning opportunity for anyone on a board of Directors.” She chose the EMBA programme to complement technical expertise with business and finance skills, but in addition found, “Some of the richest experiences have been through networking and forging strong friendships – there’s always someone with a real-life practical example for every scenario discussed in class. The lectures are fantastic and there’s never a dull moment in class with the intellectually-stimulating conversations.

“I deliberately took specific electives on ‘The role of the Non-Executive Director’ and ‘From the Savannah to the Boardroom: the Evolutionary Roots of Decisions and Leadership’. We dissected so many real-word case studies. It was great to get theoretical underpinning for the practical environment.”

Bola is keen to encourage other EMBA students and alumni who are interested in board-level positions to be bold and imaginative in applying for roles outside their immediate professional comfort zone. “My advice would be, just go for it! The perfect role where you tick all the boxes doesn’t always exist.”

For those without prior board-level experience Bola suggests, “You can start with volunteering, applying to smaller not-for-profits or professional committees. And if you don’t know where to start, I think there are a few companies that do great work in this area. For example, Women on Boards provide a safe environment for women who are looking for board roles and are excellent in their commitment to gender diversity on boards.”