Turning tables on being director

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 07:54 20/12/2012
tdn pauline stand
ROBERT CHARLES
Pauline Lockett was appointed to the board of Landcorp this year

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A Taranaki commerce leader wants to see more of the region's talents around the tables of the nation's boardrooms.

Pauline Lockett, appointed to the board of Landcorp this year, was the force behind the recent establishment of a Taranaki branch of the Institute of Directors (IOD).

The chartered accountant retired in 2010 from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), where she was a partner for more than 20 years.

She joined the IOD five years ago and sees the Taranaki branch, which now has 60 members, as a platform to build a talent base of directors.

Taranaki people on national boards include Fonterra directors David MacLeod and the newly elected Blue Read.

Lockett likes to see diversity among company directors.

"The greater the spread of diversity in the boardroom, the better - but it does depend on the business and the issues it's facing.

"For governance roles, the greater the level of thinking around strategic issues the better. Diversity and exposure to other ways of thinking enhance our way of thinking."

She said women brought a different perspective to men.

"The skills women bring to the boardroom table are not only the skills in which they've been trained, they also bring intuitive skills."

Lockett thinks New Zealand is good at putting women in leadership and governance roles.

"People talk about the glass ceiling, but I don't necessarily believe in that."

Rather, what stopped women from taking seats at board tables was that they often interrupted their careers to have children. While they might seek a part-time role or less responsibility to balance their work and family commitments, that meant they gained less experience and less recognition.

"They make a conscious choice, but it means that often they haven't built the networks they need to advance to directorships."

She also makes the point women are not the only ones lacking networks.

"Often, the experience of men in the regions is the same as women - they haven't built the networks because they're less exposed to corporate environments.

"Male or female, you have to be focused on the objective you want to achieve - who you need to know, the experience you need to gain, the skills sets and the networks you need to acquire - and commit to upskilling yourself."

She says the IOD also wants to raise awareness of governance because it is an area where small businesses are weak.

"Issues that small businesses are dealing with are governance issues."

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Small business owners need to understand and mitigate risk, to understand the importance of a strategy and to have access to a broad group of people whose experience they could capture.

The best of the country's small businesses employing between 5 and 15 people have access to independent advisers with governance experience.

"A lot of businesses don't have a strategic plan for where their business is going in the next five years.

"They might be successful. But, as owners, are they getting the most out of their business without a strategic plan?"

Businesses with strategy will grow - and could perhaps develop into multinationals, which are essential to grow New Zealand's economy.

Soon after retiring from PwC, Lockett was approached to run for the New Plymouth mayoralty.

"That was a huge leap into the unknown. But it's nice to give back to the community where I raised two sons."

Although unsuccessful in the campaign, she was elected to the New Plymouth District Council where she sits on the monitoring committee and chairs the investment subcommittee.

She enjoys the variety the council offers, although a busy week of reading - essential for informed decision-making - and meetings might consume 30 hours.

She has learnt to read quickly and, drawing on her accountancy expertise, to do what she describes as "drilling down" into the information before her.

"It takes more time than most people would think," she says.

Since her election to the council, she has been appointed to the Taranaki District Health Board where women outnumber men eight to three.

Lockett says she has put her name forward as a person seeking directorships.

"It's not about a career path - it's about using your skills and attributes for the benefit of others."

After an approach by the Crown Monitoring Unit, she joined the Landcorp board in May and chairs its audit and due diligence committee.

She says Landcorp is committed to farming in an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable way and is focused on becoming the world's most efficient pastoral livestock farmer.

Like any business, the state- owned enterprise has to prioritise the risks it faces.

For agriculture, the biggest risk is disease. Farmers have to evaluate the significance of the risk and put resources in place to mitigate it. While the country's horticultural industry has experienced disease, its biosecurity arrangements have protected animals so far.

She says Landcorp is working towards social sustainability by training its 573 staff, who can then ensure its 119 farms are effective and efficient within the vagaries of commodity prices.

In line with New Zealand's 100% Pure message and increasing environmental expectations, the company is demonstrating its commitment to the environment in a number of ways.

It is withdrawing land from pastoral farming to reduce nitrogen leaching and to protect Lake Taupo, working with Southland's Waiau Fisheries and Wildlife Habitat Enhancement Trust, has established more than 200 QE11 Trust covenants on nearly 6000 hectares of land and is undertaking riparian planting programmes.

She says the country's waterways require different methods of protection.

"You can't have one way for all of New Zealand. In Taranaki, we have steep terrain and fast-moving streams - quite different from the Waikato, for example.

"Each area has its own challenges and advantages. So it's a matter of working constructively with the agricultural industry to get good outcomes."

She respects the Taranaki Regional Council as a leader in riparian planting and for encouraging farmers to undertake it.

She points out that individuals, too, can reduce their impact on the environment by recycling, buying biodegradable products and picking up rubbish.

"When I'm walking the dog, I pick up rubbish I see lying around. It's all about balance and we can all contribute in our own way."

The daughter of a railway worker, she spent most of her childhood in Hamilton and gained University Entrance at school.

Although she would have liked to go to university, she left school to work in an office, as girls from working class backgrounds did in the 1960s.

Eventually, she did go to university to study accountancy. In the early 1980s, she moved to New Plymouth and worked as a business studies tutor at what is now the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki before joining an accountancy firm that became part of Coopers & Lybrand and then PwC.

Having had many farming clients in Taranaki, she understands the industry well and admires farmers.

She says to be successful, farmers need the skill set of a chief executive - an understanding of finance, science and human resources and the ability to make sound decisions promptly on a daily basis.

She believes the country should be encouraging its brightest and best students into farming.

Describing herself as enthusiastic, focused and creative, she likes to see the good in people. Her friends often describe her as a Pollyanna, an optimist who makes the best of any situation.

"If you're down, the only way is up, so you may as well focus on that," she said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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