Digital Executive, Chris Worle, on his meteoric rise to the Hargreaves Lansdown boardroom

As a search firm which specialises in the digital growth & transformation space, the evolution we’ve seen Hargreaves Lansdown go through over the last decade has been phenomenal to watch. There is no doubt it’s one of the UK’s greatest success stories of a home-grown business, based in Bristol becoming a FTSE100 digital first business and pioneer in online stockbroking and investments.

Chris Worle is the guy behind the last six years of digital transformation and innovation at Hargreaves Lansdown and he has had a meteoric rise to the boardroom after joining the Board as Group Digital Marketing Director in 2015 at the tender age of 32. Chris let us fire some questions at him based around his career as it’s very rare these days to see someone stay for such a long tenure at any one company.

Chris has been driving both the digital marketing agenda and the digital strategy of the business since 2010 and as digital leadership headhunters we are impressed by his meteoric rise, one that has kept up to speed with the impressive growth of the company he joined as a very young man over 10 years ago (aged 21!).

What falls under your remit at Hargreaves Lansdown?

I have two main briefs; I drive all the group digital marketing efforts as well as the overall digital strategy reporting directly to the CEO, Ian Gorham.

When you reflect on being in the driving seat for all things Digital, do you feel that you have been the driving force behind a standout single outcome?

It’s hard to say. I never realised this at the time but when I look back, this business has changed incredibly fast over the years since I joined and at Hargreaves Landsown we are increasingly trying to think of ourselves as a totally digital business and less like an FS company; we’re on that journey where it’s less about being a digital team within the business but the firm as a whole being a digital business.

Can you think of a moment that was catalytic in your career progression at Hargreaves Lansdown?

One of my greatest frustrations back in 2010-2013/14 was there was nobody responsible for digital on the Board driving the agenda. Everyone on the Board knew digital was important but nobody understood it then, as it was so new. Dharmash Mistry (x Balderton VC & NED at Dixons) joined the Board as NED and gave me and the team external validation we needed to get us going firmly in the right direction.

Did you have a career plan when you left university?

I studied business and economics at university and wanted to get into “business” but didn’t know exactly what that meant or how and where I was going to do it. The opportunity with Hargreaves Lansdown came up and it seemed perfect. There was no plan B so I jumped at it.

What was HL like when you joined? Size, population, type of business?

I joined in 2003 when we were around 450 people. Now we’re over 1000 and a proud member of the FTSE100. We’re also based in Bristol where we’ve always had our roots albeit the business I joined was very different to what one might imagine.

When I joined, we were just getting into the pensions side of things. Stock-broking was not digital then of course and we had someone solely dealing with new online capabilities for the first time within the business.

In regards to technology and the website we were nowhere but the environment and culture was young, entrepreneurial and full of grads who were working hard and playing hard. We tried things and it was fast-paced but the young energy very much drove the early digital activities that since totally transformed the business into what it is now.

How was Hargreaves Lansdown different to any other stock broker when you joined in 2003?

We had a culture of putting the client first. HL is built on the belief that we can do it better than any other stock broking firm and in regards to the investment platform, there was no marketplace for it, HL created this market for ourselves.

Is there anyone in particular who you can say helped you personally get to where you are now as a board member of a leading FTSE100 business in your early 30’s?

Peter Hargreaves bought me in and we have always had a strong relation. I’ve been careful not to build my career behind any one person as when that person leaves or moves you can quickly become like a fish out of water.  I’ve always been keen to maintain a wide internal network as there is so much to learn from others and the great thing about my role in digital is that it requires me to speak to lots of people across functions. In the early days, I was involved in the insurance category and it didn’t work out but gave me a chance to work with Stephen Lansdown (one of the founders) and Adam Norris (the firm’s former advisory director). If I had my time again I wouldn’t do anything differently.

What advice would you give digital professionals and subject matter experts who are c5 years into their careers and becoming masters of what they do?

I think it’s harder now. Patience plays a big part. I see some people who aren’t patient enough to build up that experience and knowledge but at the same time you need to be sure in yourself that you’re not treading water, it’s a careful balance. When I’ve been at the point where I’ve thought, my career has plateaued I’ve always made sure I’m learning something. It’s incredibly important to be observant around the business and listen to what’s going on. In digital, there is the opportunity to be the business and not just a small team within the business.

What’s kept me at HL is the culture fit; it works so well and it’s important to find an environment and business that you’re truly happy in. Financial services isn’t an industry I’d ever choose to be in voluntarily but culturally and environmentally HL is a great place to be. It changes so fast and just when you think it’s calming down or settling down something happens and it all changes again – that’s what I love about it.

 

Chris Worle was interviewed by Rupert Jupp, MD of Princedale Partners in November 2016.

Establishing a Digital Advisory Board

The establishment of Digital Advisory Boards for executives and investors serious about de-risking business growth

By establishing a Digital Advisory Board (DAB) you and your leadership team will garner advice and perspective on the most important Digital related subjects ensuring the executive board gleans as much up to date insight and knowledge from highly experienced digital experts and leaders of successful digital businesses.

These might be current or past board or functional leaders from eBay, Amazon, Facebook, Skype, Uber, Google or Burberry for example.

Princedale Partners builds DAB’s for CEO’s who want to ensure they’re up to date with digital, how to make the most of today’s technology and what lies ahead. The wider executive boards benefit from advice on how to best future-proof your business appreciating the speed in which technology is both enabling and disrupting the way companies do business.

This is particularly relevant to legacy businesses that want to get up to date with digital and technology and the way in which they communicate, engage and sell to customers through the digital channels.

We also help private equity firms where a DAB offers perspective both for the firm and the portfolio investments. Here there is the additional benefit of succession planning for Chief Digital Officer or Customer/Digital Channel Directors and other relevant executive leadership positions within portfolio investments.
In most cases the DAB consists of four to six digital advisers from across the consumer markets with subject matter expertise in any of the following; digital payments, technology platforms, big data, security, mobile, social media, marketing and digital customer engagement.

We recommend the DAB meets four times a year with the client and the key digital sponsors within the organisation. This might be the Chief Digital Officer, the CTO, the CMO, the CFO or COO and of course the CEO.

Ideally the DAB meetings take place one to 2 weeks preceding the quarterly board meetings so that lessons learnt, ideas made and perspective shared can be considered and aired at the Board table whilst it’s fresh, relevant and considered.

The role and benefits of having a Digital Advisory Board are wide reaching but certainly cover the following:

  • The Next Big Thing. It provides strategic advice to the client, helping identify the next big thing in digital in the foreseeable future with pragmatic advice on how to assess opportunities and future-proof your business.
  • A Strategic Sounding Board. It serves as a valuable sounding board to understand and vet new digital strategies, ideas and implementation plans for the management team providing healthy constructive challenges where appropriate across all areas of digital activity i.e online trading, digital marketing, social media, technology investment, test and learn labs, fulfillment, data learning etc.
  • Individual Subject Matter Experts. Individual members of the DAB can also serve as subject matter experts to employees across the business. This way if a Finance or Operations Director for example needs a deeper understanding of a given digital subject they have direct access to a specialist with knowledge of say; enterprise architecture, search engine optimization, social media strategies, mobile platforms or appropriate digital marketing budgets.
  • Brainstorming & Problem Solving. The DAB also serves as a brainstorming group for key issues or opportunities for your business. Outside members are unbiased, offering balanced third party views on why issues are arising and can provide recommendations with the benefit of perspective from other industries that may have faced similar challenges.
  • Referrals & Recommendations. The digital advisers are also well placed to provide recommendations that can help you and your business with specialist agencies and consultancies (technology, strategy, marketing, talent), and equally helpfully, those to avoid.
  • Motivation, Enthusiasm and PR. The Digital Advisory Board serves as a statement internally and externally when the CEO and board want to ensure they’re not complacent but proactive in seeking answers and deeper understanding to ensure they stay up to date in understanding what’s happening in the wider digital world and what the future of technology looks like.
  • And finally a simple yet highly value safety check. It provides a safety check for the executive board to confirm whether current digital strategies are sound, whether any key elements are missing or whether there is a need for a course correction.

Four core commitments of the Digital Advisory Board members:

  • They agree to meet in person together for the four quarterly digital advisory board meetings in the run up to the company’s quarterly board meetings and contribute to the action plans and recommendations made and recorded.
  • They make themselves available for advice outside these meetings with specific individuals (within reason) from within the organisation. Typically those representatives from the company that meets with the DAB.
  • To agree that all non-public information shared is kept confidential and NDA’s are of course signed upfront.
  • Commit to a year as a DAB member to said client with an option on both sides to renew this on a yearly basis. To be negotiated via Princedale Partners Limited.

Establishing a Digital Advisory Board can be an incredible valuable thing to do and we have an excellent network of highly experienced digital leaders that are interested in helping businesses like yours.

To discuss this further please contact Rupert Jupp, MD at Princedale Partners, Digital Headhunters + Talent Advisers

The benefits of Digital Advisory Boards

A ‘DAB’ hand…

When researching Digital Advisory Boards on Google, only one FTSE company is ranked and that is Thomas Cook Plc. The other results are almost entirely news articles on governmental digital advisory boards. Is government really ahead on its thinking about the future of digital than UK Plc?

Harriet Green, CEO of Thomas Cook Plc who is leading the impressive turnaround of one of the oldest British high street retailers sights ‘a vital element in our transformation is the development and implementation of our digital strategy.’ I suspect these very words have passed the lips of most CEO’s, on more than one occasion.

She goes on to say “The DAB will make a significant contribution to the success of Thomas Cook. It, in addition to the group’s executive team, includes an exceptional array of independent experts whose input will be invaluable to our activities.”

I believe that the establishment of Digital Advisory Board’s (DAB’s) will increasingly happen through 2014 for companies looking to gain perspective and council from outside their specific sector or market whether that’s retail, travel, consumer goods, media or banking. The value of these DAB’s will be significant.
Every day we hear about companies looking to ‘transform’, ‘pivot’ or ‘innovate’ and there’s good reason for this. But who’s helping with the answers? Equally importantly who’s asking the right questions of not just what’s possible, but also what’s fundamental for future business growth in this fast evolving digital world.

Most boards are made up of industry veterans, those that have worked up through the sector and sometimes through the ranks of the company itself. And of course that wealth of experience is important, but it exposes a risk in this day and age of not better understanding the nuances of how other businesses in other sectors approach selling, marketing and communicating with their customers.

Let’s take a major UK high street bank that is about to invest hundreds of millions of pounds in technology to further improve the way the business is run, by putting technology in place to best serve its increasingly digitally savvy customer.

A Digital Advisory Board of five experienced digital specialists, helping the board make the right decisions might look like this:

  • A Product Director x PayPal
  • An Online Trading Director x Argos
  • A Content Director x Expedia
  • A Director of Advertising Sales x Forbes.com
  • And a CTO x Amazon

These members meet the board quarterly to share knowledge and insight, especially helping the CEO and the CFO. This doesn’t expose ignorance; it helps ensure the right questions are being asked, with the added benefit of learning from others from leading companies outside of the banking sector. This is likely to cover lessons from; ‘test and learnt’ initiatives, accurate digital marketing budgets, optimal team structuring and advice on the right external technology partners to work with.

Some might say their CEO’s will be concerned that their lack of digital knowledge would be exposed. Maybe, but if we in the UK continue to pioneer much of the ever growing global eCommerce and digital industry, then we must truly invest in knowledge and how other businesses embrace the incredible technology available to drive growth and impress customers.

If you would be interested in discussing being a Digital Advisory Board member in another sector, or you feel the creation of a DAB would be valuable to your board and business, we’d be delighted to discuss it with you.

Rupert Jupp
Managing Director & Founder