Amanda Heyworth BA (Acc), MBA (AGSM), FAICD
Amanda Heyworth is a professional company director who serves as a board member or board adviser on listed and unlisted boards in Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide. Her board career has spanned property, technology, finance, not-for-profit and Government business enterprises. She has advised both State and Federal Governments on innovation policy, serves on the Federal Government board which licences venture capital funds and teaches product strategy for the Australian Graduate School of Management. Previously, Amanda was CEO of a venture capital fund, held management roles in technology and finance sectors and worked as a Federal Treasury economist in Canberra. Originally trained as an accountant, Amanda has post graduate qualifications in accounting and finance and a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
What boards do you sit on?
I currently sit on the boards of a high growth ASX300 company specialising in seniors housing and tourism (Ingenia Communities Group Ltd), a credit union (People’s Choice), a university commercialisation company (UniSA Ventures), a cemetery authority (Centennial Park) and the Commonwealth Innovation Investment Committee. Past board roles include a range of software and medical device start-ups, a lotteries commission, a disability employment enterprise, a social assistance charity, a private CEO group and the Federal Government board responsible for renewable energy grants.
When and why did you decide to become a director?
I started on technology start-ups as a director in my own software business and then on the boards of portfolio companies when I ran a venture capital fund. So I got started in my 30s while still working fulltime. When I was appointed CEO of the venture fund, my chairman encouraged me to continue serving on an external board on the basis that it would make me a better executive.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
I moved to being a fulltime director about six years ago and my main aspiration is to maintain a portfolio of companies where I can make a real difference. I aspire to be the director that colleagues and management call when they want input on a thorny issue.
Outline your career background.
I started out as an accountant and that means that I am often asked to chair the Audit & Risk Committee. I’m happy to do that because I think it gives you deeper insight into an organisation. My business career is quite varied but the theme running through it is finance and growth businesses. This gives me experience in business strategy, investment; expanding into new products and geographies and managing business growth which can be useful around a board table.
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
The hardest boards are those where directors don’t fully understand their role or where management is struggling to deliver. A director needs a “radar” to identify emerging issues; judgement on which issues should be pursued; courage to raise concerns and persistence to ensure they are tackled. It depends on the circumstances – but I would generally start with having a quiet word to the chairman to see if he or she has the same concerns.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
Absolutely. I have learned a lot from watching good directors in action. They ask tough questions, are decisive on the important issues and know when to trust management to get on with the detail.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
When I was CEO, I benefited hugely from having a Chairman who encouraged me to trust my business instincts and make things happen. At the same time, he would still express confidence in me even when something hadn’t worked out. That didn’t mean he gave me an easy ride, but I always felt that I could be totally frank with him and that he had my back. I am also thankful for the generosity of established directors who made introductions when I was starting out as a fulltime director and looking to build a portfolio.
What’s the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?
The meetings where I am the only woman in the room are becoming quite rare. Institutional investors are now asking questions if a listed company board has fewer than 30% women. So, gender diversity is improving, though there is still a way to go. Apart from companies with ownership links to Asia, I don't see many Asians in boardrooms. I think that will also change over time. In the end, it’s not good business to ignore a large proportion of the population when selecting people for roles. When diversity is implemented well, there is clear evidence showing that boards make better decisions and organisations perform better.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
Very specifically, I was appointed to the Centennial Park role after it was advertised on WOB. More broadly, WOB has been at the forefront of promoting the benefits of gender diversity on boards and I think we all have benefited from that - men as well as women.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
Build a track record in your chosen career, do the AICD Company Directors diploma and let people know you are interested. Consider what experience and skills you bring to a board and then look for boards where you can make a real contribution while learning from experienced directors.