Anna Phan

Non-Executive Director

Anna is the Executive Officer at Erina Baptist Community Care, a not-for-profit company which supports the local community through the provision of services including an Early Learning Centre, a Men's Shed, and a Counselling division. In 2018 Anna was also appointed to serve as a Non-Executive Director on the board of BaptistCare NSW / ACT. Previously, Anna worked in Australia and the UK in sales leadership roles for global FMCG organisations. Anna is deeply passionate about excellence in organisational and personal leadership and believes that strong and healthy workplace cultures are the key to thriving organisations. Anna lives on the Central Coast with her husband Thang, and their two boys aged 10 and 7.

What boards do you currently sit on?

BaptistCare NSW / ACT

When and why did you decide to become a director?

I decided to apply for a board role following a WOB networking evening. The key reason I applied to be a director was to use my experience to serve the organisation. I also recognise the significant professional development and insight I receive as a result of being involved in key strategic discussions and decisions.

What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?

Short term my key aspiration is to develop my skills as a director, and my knowledge of the organisation and the industry, so that I can add as much value as possible. Medium term, I may look to serve on another board or two. However, this is some way down the track, as right now I am balancing my career and family along with my board responsibilities – as well as trying to maintain some margin, so that I can pursue opportunities and interests that arise.

Outline your career background.

I went straight from university in the UK into an FMCG sales and marketing traineeship. I worked for FMCG companies based in the UK in sales and sales leadership roles before returning to Australia in 2010 to lead the Australian retail division for Baxters, a global FMCG brand. From there I moved into Lion in 2012 with sales and leadership roles in their liquor division before being appointed into my current role as Executive Officer for Erina Baptist Community Care in 2017. It's been really interesting going from working in large FMGC companies to working for a not for profit community organisation, and it's given me an opportunity to reflect on the relative strengths and challenges of each.

Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?

I had never considered a board role before attending a WOB networking evening on the Central Coast about a year ago. So perhaps my first challenge was to overcome my own limiting thoughts about whether I could or should even apply. Attending WOB events was definitely the catalyst that gave me the confidence to apply for my first board role.
 
Applying for a board role brought with it a number of new challenges. Firstly, I had to articulate my value to the board, and it was interesting to consider how this differed from a traditional job application. It was less focused on achievements, and more on who I was as a professional. It was a definite mind shift for me, and I reached out to get advice from people currently serving on boards, as well as from Claire and Ruth at WOB. Some great advice I was given was to get to a point where I could clearly articulate my personal brand - who I am and what I stand for.
 
Secondly, I was applying for a board role in an industry where I didn't have direct experience. I reached out to my existing friends and contacts who had relevant experience and bought them lunches and coffees to spend time discussing the care industry, and its specific challenges and opportunities.

Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?

I look up to directors who can raise difficult questions and matters in a way that demonstrates that they are acting in the best interests of the organisation, while still empowering and equipping the management team in the process. The impact of board members stretch beyond the legal requirements of excellent governance, and into the opportunity to reinforce the culture of the organisation - how we do things around here. The best directors ensure that their views are heard by delivering them in a constructive way. There is always a risk that board members can overstep out of governance and into management, and so being self-controlled in holding back from this is also vital to ensure you are supporting the management team effectively.

Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?

I have had mentors support me throughout my career, and I have found that the key help they have given is in adding perspective and helping me to establish the best ways forward. I strongly believe that learning and benefiting from the experience and insights of others is vital in our own development. I've also reflected on how you don't need mentors and sponsors with experience in the exact fields you're working and serving in. The richness of mentors and sponsors doesn't come in terms of technical ability, but instead in terms of style, approach and problem-solving approaches.

What is the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?  If you sit on a mix of diverse and non-diverse boards, what differences have you noticed? 

Pleasingly, I've experienced good diversity - and I think it's key to recognise that board diversity goes beyond gender or ethnicity, and the importance of diverse professional experience. The BaptistCare board has a rich diversity of professional backgrounds, which makes for robust understanding of the implications of decisions made.

How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?

Firstly, with the confidence to apply for a board role. Until I attended the WOB networking evening, I hadn't even realised that board roles would be open to me as I was under 40, and I had a preconception that you needed to be older to apply. Hence the realisation that this wasn't the barrier I had thought it was was definitely the catalyst for my application. Secondly, the week before my interview, Ruth gave me a call to chat through some last-minute tips for the day.

Any tips for women starting out in their career?

Get as much professional development and learning as you can. If your company doesn't offer it - look for external organisations that do, and perhaps negotiate a training budget as part of your package. Also, ask for help and mentoring from people whose skills and style you admire - whether in your organisation, or outside. Sometimes they will charge for it, but sometimes it's just a case of offering to buy them lunch every month or so. Some people will say no - but keep asking. The right person will say yes - and it will be an incredible opportunity for you to learn, and for them to give back.

Any other comments or insights?

If you're thinking of applying for a board role, and you have the experience, skills, time and energy to serve on one - go for it! You may need to do a few applications, but each will be a learning experience in itself. And learn how to network if you don't already. To begin with it feels strange, but you will be surprised how many people want to help you, if you can clearly articulate what you want from them - e.g. ringing and asking them to mentor you from the outset will feel too loose for most people to commit to. But ringing them and asking if you can take 15 minutes of their time to learn from them in a particular area? Most are happy to do so.