In Conversation in Brisbane

Sage and strategic advice was the order of the day from the experienced panel interviewed by WOB Executive Director, Claire Braund, in Brisbane last Thursday (1 August).
Held at the offices of WOB corporate member and law firm, Holding Redlich, the Boardroom Conversation heard from ASX NED, Andrea Staines, former Qld MP, lawyer and experienced board member, Paul Lucas and Cairn’s based partner at Holding Redlich and FNQ Ports Director, Vanessa Maruna.
The panel gave the audience, of 65 WOB members and Holding Redlich invitees, strategic insights into what makes a good director, the operating environment on a board and a few good laughs as they shared some of their experiences.

Describing himself as a ‘utility back’ Paul Lucas drew on learnings from his experience serving in the Queensland cabinet to the diverse range of boards he now severs on – including those in the not-for-profit sector and Indigenous health.  He spoke about Government boards – including the (often lengthy) appointments process and how aspirant directors should register on the Queensland Government register, be able to succinctly articulate their key skills & value and network well and appropriately with Ministers (and their staff) and other government board members.
Andrea Staines cited resilience and being prepared to do the hard yakka as key components in the hard work of building a portfolio of boards. She started her board career at the age of 41 having stepped down as CEO of Qantas subsidiary, Australia Airlines, having made the strategic decision for reasons of ‘personal flexibility and professional diversity’. As a single parent for eight years and with her children approaching their teenage years, she knew the life of the top flight executive was no longer going to work for her. This meant her income was going to have come from board work – so she set about building her board portfolio with in a highly purposeful and strategic way - focussing on leveraging her expertise in financial analysis to boards in the transport and retail care sectors.
While she has been very successful, Andrea says she is always mindful that she needs five boards in her portfolio at all times, which takes a lot of application and diligence to achieve. She recently contemplated going back to full-time executive life but decided that she didn't want to give up the ‘personal flexibility & professional diversity’ that board work allowed.
Vanessa Maruna is more recent to boards than Paul and Andrea, but served on a range of regional not-for-profit boards, including in the ever-embattled arts sector, before being invited to join the FNQ Ports board in Cairns. A key issue for Vanessa was how to be seen and network beyond the area in which you live, because when it comes to board appointments there is sometimes a perception that bit city experience trumps that of the regions.
All panel members agreed that the following attributes make for a good director:
  • Sense of humour
  • Financial acumen – don’t take the role if you are not comfortable with numbers
  • Being a team player
  • Unafraid to articulate a point of view
  • Courage and courtesy
  • Be broad in your outlook and experience as the fresh eyes of a generalist are often very useful in seeing gaps that specialists overlook
  • Able to speak up and share valid expertise/experience when required
  • Ability to work collaboratively - a good board handles dissent well but then makes a collective decision - need to stick with the collective decision
Things to watch for in creating a positive and productive boardroom dynamic:
  • A Chair who is inclusive, observant and quiet – canvassing the thoughts and options of all directors
  • That one difficult director who can severally disrupt the boardroom dynamic
  • Major shareholders on the board
  • Founder syndrome in not-for-profits and private companies
Advice for those starting out:
  • Put your aspirations out there - ask people
  • Executives and CEO’s don’t always translate well into directors - it's a different set of skills
  • Check your motivations for serving on a board – is it to give back, gain experience, as a career boost or something else?
  • Board roles are often not highly visible, so networks are more important to use than relying on advertisements
  • Look at board roles as building blocks - one can lead to another or lead to different people to network with opening up other opportunities
  • Learn how to differentiate yourself and to articulate your specific skills very succinctly without reciting your qualifications
  • Show your passion for the organisation / sector
  • Don’t give up your day job for board work!
With thanks to WOB Corporate Member: 
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