How the National Trust Chair is selected

Published: 15 December 2021

Last update: 15 December 2021

Blog post
This blog post is written by Paul Roberts, Senior Member of the National Trust Council Paul Roberts Senior Member of the National Trust Council
Black Sail Pass, Ennerdale in the Lake District

Some might think selecting a new Chair for the National Trust is a process steeped in arcane ritual and opaque governance. Actually it isn’t, it’s pretty simple and transparent, explains Paul Roberts, Senior Member of the National Trust's Council.

The National Trust’s Council has 36 members, and we are all volunteers who care passionately about the Trust and its cause. Half are directly elected by our members and half are nominated by appointing bodies, who are themselves directly voted on by our members.  

The first thing that happens is that the Council sets up a Nominations Committee. In this instance, the Committee was made up of Council members Jane Dean and Caroline Kay, independent member James Bigwood, Trustee nominee Michael Day, and myself as Chair.  

The Committee then goes about the recruitment process under instruction from the Council. They asked us to search for someone with the appropriate skills to serve as Chair of the National Trust, following the retirement of Tim Parker who stepped down this year having served an exceptional further 12 months during the Covid pandemic.  

How do we decide on the appropriate skills? It’s a case of democracy in action. We ask every Council member about the knowledge, skills and experience that’s needed.  And bear in mind the Council’s 36 members have a wide span of knowledge, skills and experience.

This feedback was carefully considered by the Committee and fed into the recruitment process. It included vital qualities like “understanding of the clear distinction of the roles of the wholly non-executive Board and the executive leadership and management, in a charitable setting.” It’s so important that non-executives, with the Chair leading the way, can challenge and hold the executive team to account.

Next, we needed help from a specialist agency, so we could secure the very strongest field of candidates. In this instance we were supported by independent search consultants Odgers Berndtson. The Odgers team were well placed given their knowledge and understanding of our organisation, having supported previous Board level appointments for the Trust.

A public advertising campaign ran from 6 September for four weeks, covering a combination of internal and external channels including The Guardian, The Times/Sunday Times, The Economist, Women on Boards and Third Sector. The advertising generated a number of enquiries, reflecting a good blend of diversity among the potential candidates. 

Odgers ran a targeted search campaign in parallel. It was clear from the outset that there was a high level of interest in this opportunity. Odgers proactively approached over 120 individuals – potential candidates who were felt to be suitably qualified for the role, from a wide range of diverse backgrounds. 
By the closing date on 10 October, 22 candidates had decided to formally apply. Applicants included internal and external candidates, from a range of backgrounds across the private, public and third sectors, all bringing with them a range of skills, experience and qualification. All of them were high quality candidates.

The Committee looked at each candidate in detail before agreeing a shortlist who would be invited to interview. The thorough assessment of these candidates included interviews that covered a variety of themes, including the candidate’s motivation and ambition for the role of Chair, their views of the Trust and how our charity is run.

I am delighted to say that after extensive discussion and reflection after these interviews, we unanimously reached the recommendation that the Council decided to progress with on 14 December. 

As you’ll have seen from the news release, the National Trust will be led by René Olivieri, an exceptional individual who is brilliantly qualified for the role. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been involved in his appointment, and I can’t wait to see him in action.

René Olivieri, the new Chair of the National Trust
Rene Olivieri
René Olivieri, the new Chair of the National Trust