How Leeds Innovation District will provide a boost for the region's health technology sector

Georgina Mitchell believes non-executive directors can play a vital role in helping organisations of all sizes achieve their potential, writes Greg Wright.

AN inquiring mind is a priceless asset because it opens a world of opportunity.

Georgina Mitchell has built up an impressive portfolio of non-executive director, trustee, adviser and governor roles, driven by her desire to see organisations of all sizes serve the greater good.

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In her latest role, as an associate non-executive director at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, she has the chance to provide guidance which will help to shape one of the largest NHS trusts in the country. The trust has nearly 20,000 employees and six hospitals with two more in the pipeline.

Georgina Mitchell has built up an impressive portfolio of non-executive director, trustee, adviser and governor roles, driven by her desire to see organisations of all sizes serve the greater good.

She was taken on to bring a commercial perspective to the trust’s work and draw on her contacts in the digital and tech sectors. Ms Mitchell is particularly enthused by the planned creation of a Leeds Innovation District, which is set to be the envy of the nation.

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“The innovation district will be a really exciting step for Leeds because it will bring together a lot of the healthtech and medtech community that is already thriving,” said Ms Mitchell.

“It will allow access to clinicians within the hospital, so the areas of expertise that the hospital has can really be built on.

“The two new hospitals are being designed from the ground up as sustainable hospitals with a close eye on inclusion.

“There are opportunities there that wouldn’t exist if you didn’t have that modern infrastructure around you, that healthtech firms can build on.

“The tech businesses build up around the traditional industries. So when you’ve got a very large teaching hospital, the fact there is healthtech should be no surprise. The same applies to fintech because Leeds is a hub for financial services.”

Ms Mitchell has a CV which includes board level experience and regular appearances on BBC Breakfast, discussing the highs and lows of the stock market in her previous role at Redmayne Bentley, the investment management and stockbroking firm.

She was determined to develop a career structure that involved working with a wide variety of businesses, so she completed the Financial Times Non-Executive Director diploma, as a stepping stone towards her first non-exec position.

“I love strategy and long-term planning, to be able to do that with larger organisations and see their potential realised is very rewarding,” Ms Mitchell said.

“My association with Leeds Teaching Hospitals goes back to my husband, who sadly died of a brain tumour in 2014. He had surgery at LGI and was treated at St James’s. To be able to go back and support the fantastic work that they do and the experiences that patients have is very important.”

She has also chaired a discussion group of three wealth management ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) experts and more than 20 asset management firms with the aim of simplifying the language around ESG for retail investors and their advisers.

“ESG has so many different implications; it’s important first to define it,” she said.

“In financial services, ESG is often a fund, where you try to do good things through the allocation of capital.

“Within business, there are usually four pillars to it; the community you serve, your employees and stakeholders, the environment and your customers.

“It comes down to making sure that each of them is treated fairly and the decisions you take, take into consideration the impact on all four of those pillars.”

Members of a wealth management community – Octo Members – were becoming frustrated with the confusing language around ESG.

“They asked me to chair a group to have a discussion with fund managers and say, ‘Can we get some consistency here?’ ”, Ms Mitchell recalled.

“During the course of that, the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) decided to introduce a labelling regime because consumers were getting as confused as the wealth management industry.

It was felt there was potentially some harm coming to consumers where they were putting their money into funds which they had been told were ESG, but there was possible mis-labelling, which is what we call green-washing.

“We brought the discussion we had been having and I pulled it together for the FCA as feedback to hopefully influence their discussions because, having worked for Redmayne Bentley for 17 years, I have got a real understanding of where consumers are coming from. The FCA was very keen to get that perspective.”

A diligent non-exec can help quietly steer an organisation by drawing on their own knowledge and experiences.

The pandemic has prompted many people to consider how they can use their life skills creatively.

“Good training grounds are getting roles as a school governor or as a charity trustee,” said Ms Mitchell. “You could talk to your employer so you can take time out to work as a non-exec.

“Think about the skills you have got, because everybody will bring something different to the table.”

She added: “With the hospital, very few of us have medical backgrounds because we are not there to give a medical opinion, we are there to provide challenges on decisions that are being taken.

“ Having that kind of inquisitive mindset is really important.”

Georgina Mitchell is an executive director, non-executive director, trustee, adviser and governor with experience in the private and public sectors, across financial services, fintech, housing, healthcare and state and independent education.

She believes the pandemic has had a profound impact on the way business interacts with the wider world.

Ms Mitchell added: “Social inequalities came much more to the fore during the pandemic, and people saw the impact more.

“That really hit home; it made people think about what they themselves could do about it.

“It could be by supporting the local community or doing something for the environment.”