Helping a Social Enterprise SME with the Leeds Exceptional NED programme

Leeds University Business School delivers an Exceptional Non-Executive Director (NED) programme, ideal for senior business professionals looking to develop their skills as a Non-Executive Director.

As part of the programme, participants undertake a placement in an SME organisation, offering new ideas and perspectives whilst gaining experience. 

The SME hosts the delegate for three months and invites them to three Board meetings in order to share in the delegates knowledge and wisdom. Being a host gives the business the opportunity to obtain a fresh perspective on the strategy from an external pair of eyes. There is no cost to the SME at all and no long-term expectation or commitment unless both parties wish there to be. 

In 2022, Christina Lovelock, a Business Analysis leader and business consultant, took part in the programme and spent time on placement at re:work, a social enterprise supplying repurposed office furniture, founded by Caroline Wherritt. In this article, Christina and Caroline share their experience of the programme.

What made you decide to undertake an executive programme with the University of Leeds?

[Caroline – MD of re:work] “I originally took part in a small business programme and that brought me into the world of the Business School and since then I’ve taken advantage of any resources or opportunities to work with them, including becoming an Enterprise Ambassador. This allowed me to build up those networks and I think that's where the power of the Business School comes from, there are just so many opportunities, as soon as you start on one thing you end up being signposted to other areas. 

[Christina] “Initially I completed by MSc in Senior Leadership through the Business School and through that programme that I heard about the Exceptional NED programme. I was keen to grow my career and take on NED roles and this seemed the perfect programme for me. The Exceptional NED programme built really well on the themes of the MSc, so it was a really good timing.

Christina, can you tell us about your experience of the NED programme?

[Christina] “I went into the placement thinking I don't know anything about SMEs and social enterprise as I come from big public sector organisations with over 10,000 employees. But Caroline and the team were fantastic and put all of my worries aside straight away. We had a good discussion early on and stated our strengths, weakness and what we were each hoping to achieve. We had a very honest relationship from the start and that gave me the confidence to put my experience into practice.”

“The programme was a really supportive cohort of business professionals and we were able to share knowledge and experience which I found really useful and allowed me to grow my network. I am a Leeds University Business School alumni and so I will to continue to be involved in years to come.”

What area of the business did you work on during the placement?

[Christina] “Caroline took me through the business action plan she had developed having recently completed the Business School’s Help to Grow programme, and I identified certain key actions where I thought I could add value and that we should discuss and explore further. In particular we focused on their top 50 customers and what they were spending and how they interacted with the business. We wanted to go back to the heart of the company's culture of being a social enterprise and started looking at different business models and which of those most closely aligned to the values of the organisation.

What did you gain from the placement?

[Caroline – MD of re:work] “I was very much ‘boots on the ground’ and focused too much on the day-job and I wanted to try and elevate myself and have more strategic conversations with my employees. Christina’s experience and role as a NED in the organisation really challenged me to think more strategically and make decisions that really focused more on the future of the organisation and how we can move forward and achieve more as a social enterprise.

[Christina] “It was a massive confidence for me to know that the experience, skills and knowledge I had, could really be helpful to somebody else and another organisation. I really wanted it to be a partnership where I could genuinely add value and I found that I was definitely able to bring a different perspective and provide something constructive for re:work.” 

What would you say to other small businesses who could benefit from a NED placement?

[Caroline] “It is a minimal investment of time on your part, and even if you just get one interesting idea or one new perspective from that period of time, then that's something that you didn't have before. It's really collaborative and focused on getting the best out of your small business.”

The Leeds Exceptional NED programme has been designed to benefit experienced executives who become a NED and also the organisations who host them for a three-month placement.

Contact Anne Salisbury ( to find out more about the programme.