OPINION: What does it take to become a director on a commercial board? How do you know if all your hard graft is actually heading you in the right direction?
Conversations with seasoned directors, who you and I might consider as having achieved the level of experience to aim for, are agreed on three key things - it takes drive, wise career choices and a strong network with a smattering of good fortune - okay, four things. While for some becoming a director has been a happenstance journey, for most it is a conscious decision.
For former director on NZX-listed Kingfish Limited, Barramundi Limited and Marlin Global Limited, Annabel Cotton, it was clear choice. Investing in governance training was an obvious next step for her after working as an investment analyst and setting up the investor relations programme at Telecom and Air New Zealand. She credits some of her inspiration and good fortune to working with senior executives of large companies.
"I saw a huge variation in performance of a number of issuers who came before the Securities Commission during my term as a commissioner. On the enforcement side I saw some appalling examples of governance and behaviour but in other areas of the commission's work I was able to engage with some of the leading legal and business minds in New Zealand,'' she says.
Speaking of good fortune, I had a lovely conversation with Bill McLeod, long-time farmer, co-op board director, transport owner and many things besides. The guts to stick his neck out and speak up singled him out early on as a natural leader.
Before the days of Fonterra, he attended an industry meeting as an observer and by mid-morning could contain his frustration no longer on a key decision that could have sent many farmers under. Though he had no speaking rights and ruffled the feathers of some, one wise man must have been on his wavelength - "good point young fella".
A year later, he was approached to stand for the board.
On the topic of whether your hard graft is getting you anywhere, Bill said that as a director starting out, there may be times when you feel that the board you have joined is not a good fit for you. Appreciating that changes happen incrementally and that patience is a valuable personality trait, sometimes it is just that the board is not ready for you.
While for some the goal is to be a director on a public listed company, directorships on co-operatives, not-for-profits and private enterprises hold equal if not greater appeal for others.
Public listed directorships can be demanding of time and heavily compliance focused. The opportunity to be involved in an entity early on and help shape its strategic growth is the reason Neil Richardson is drawn to his governance roles.
Chairman of New Zealand Home Loans, Seales-Winslow, Visique and numerous others, he says: "I prefer to invest and build companies from their early growth phases and either sell them or step down from the Board at the time of listing."
For the smattering of good fortune, he confesses to being thrown into situations such as being appointed chair of AgResearch and of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology when not involved on their boards or even involved in their sectors of operation.
"I could comment at length on the lessons that I have learnt from my governance experiences. It is this process of constant learning that is critical to understanding the nuances of the profession ofenterprise governance, rather than just being a 'professional director'."
Sehaam Caselberg is chair of communications sub-committee, Institute of Directors Waikato Find out if governance is a career option for you. Governance - the next generation is a joint initiative between the Institute of Directors and the Chamber of Commerce in theWaikato. Wednesday November 14 at Wintec Atrium, 4.30-6.30pm. Entry is free. Register at www.iod.org.nz
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