In a market that is flat at best, the Holy Grail is growth, leading chairmen and chief executives to ask two questions: have I got the right strategy and have I got the right people?

In a market that is flat at best, the Holy Grail is growth, leading chairmen and chief executives to ask two questions: have I got the right strategy and have I got the right people?

The second is certainly driving a lot of movement at present, but changing or upgrading the team is not the only way to ensure best-in-class capability.

In private equity portfolio companies, particularly those with turnover of less than £250m, the top team may be quite small or relatively inexperienced - or both.

Also, there may or may not be the benefit of an external chairman to bring wisdom and an additional point of view. So when a company feels the need for additional intellectual firepower, it usually appoints consultants, but that can be expensive and is no substitute for hands-on experience.

An attractive alternative is to appoint an advisory board whose members are carefully selected to bring specific expertise in key areas.

They can contribute to strategic thinking, provide a sounding board or catalyst for change, challenge management and the status quo, tackle sacred cows and mentor less experienced managers.

That strategy has worked very well at Wiggle, the online cycling and triathlete sports specialist. Four key areas were identified as critical to future success, and acknowledged experts in these fields have been appointed by chairman Andy Bond to work with the board and [Wiggle owner] Bridgepoint to bring the very best thinking to bear on future direction.

The advisers meet together and separately with the board four times a year; the collective gatherings are about long-term strategic planning and sharing ideas at the broadest level, while the individual sessions focus on a particular area - for example, international expansion or customer proposition.

On an ad hoc basis each adviser may also be asked to spend time with the department or director that will benefit most from their expertise, offering a wider perspective on current issues or problems.

The advisory board has no fiduciary responsibility or equity; the members receive fees and expenses but are also invited to fun cycling and sports events, as well as having the opportunity to gain exposure to one of the UK’s most active retail investors.

Commenting on how the advisory board is working so far, Andy Bond said: “The advisory board is made up of four very experienced and energetic individuals. It’s key that they have their own career and total independence.

They bring both good insight and good judgment. It’s early days but so far it’s been an excellent addition to the leadership of the company.”

Appointing an advisory board is an excellent way of bringing real experience to bear on business challenges, tapping into the brain power of talented individuals who have actually faced the issues companies are grappling with today. Continuity gives an extra sense of commitment, although the make-up of the group can change over time to reflect the evolving needs of management.

  • Fran Minogue Managing Partner, Clarity