Young people can be company directors

MICHAEL BERRY
Last updated 08:16 01/10/2012

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The Canterbury branch of the Institute of Directors wants to change people's misconception that you have to be an ageing businessman to be appointed a company director.

The branch recently finished its first Governance Development Programme, a three-month course for 20 existing and potential board members.

The programme was held in other regions and the strong response in Christchurch meant it was likely to continue as an annual fixture, branch committee member Karl Varley said.

Many people could be a valuable addition to the board table, but they did not believe it was a job they could go for, he said. Boards were stronger for the different experiences and skills each member had, and many people needed to be persuaded they had merit around a board table, he said.

Some Canterbury company boards did not function well and were essentially a gentlemen's meeting because of a lack of depth and real debate, he said.

Young people who have grown up in the digital age could offer great insights into e-commerce and the views of younger consumers, he said.

Similarly, people with cultural links to main export markets or customers could give a board the vital experience to succeed.

"We're trying to attract the talent. Christchurch is really well known for its networking and the institute is the premier network of governance people.

"Lots of boards are seeing the value of bringing these new people through."

The institute wanted to become the conduit for connecting people with companies they could benefit as well as people they could learn from, he said. It was trying to extend its reach in the digital world through Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Most of the graduates of the governance programme were already either in higher management of businesses, a director of a company or not for profit, or both, he said.

Arrow International Christchurch director Ian Smith said the governance programme was useful for understanding the separation of management and governance, especially for people who have a foot in both camps. Directors who run day-to-day management had to make sure they could wear a different hat and look at the company from a different angle, without falling into micromanaging, he said.

It was his first formal training course and the discussions between presenters and the directors during the fortnightly sessions of the course were insightful, he said. "If you say you're going to a seminar on governance, it's not the sexiest thing ever."

But he found it a great experience and more fun than he would have thought.

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Meeting people outside their usual sphere had been good for broadening perspectives and getting useful advice, he said.

He would like to become a professional director later in life, but the skills helped him now with his position on St Andrew's College Board of Trustees. He enjoyed the voluntary work; most of the graduates on the course held similar roles, he said.

Ngai Tahu Tourism director Liz Hirst has completed several training courses and believed becoming a strong director was as much art as science and getting as many varied experiences as possible.

"Sharing the stories, the war stories and the success stories, you hear both and I think that's a real powerful way to learn."

Kiwi directors were becoming better and more professional, but there was a challenge to get younger people around the board table as well, she said.

- The Press

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