How amateur Muay Thai fighter Bridget Thakrar has found her strength in the ring - and the boardroom
In between facing opponents in the ring and raising two small children, amateur Mauy Thai fighter Bridget Thakrar also sits on two not-for-profit boards and is a people and operations executive with AgTech software company Sensand. Bridget is also the co-founder of In The Game, a game-based leadership consultancy, and is an Activator as part of the SheEO movement. An AICD qualified board member, Bridget has a passion for driving high-performance outcomes by way of cultural transformation.
What boards or committees are you currently on and why?
I’m currently on two boards. The first is Refuge Victoria which provides crisis accommodation and support for people escaping family violence. The second is Link Community and Transport which exists to provide in-home support and transport to those who need it, ensuring clients stay connected to essential services and community. Both are fantastic not for profit organisations that exist to support vulnerable members of our community, so there is strong alignment with my personal values with both. I consider my board roles to be the equivalent of me volunteering in my community, but in a way that leverages the things I’m good at and enjoy. My first board role was at Dress for Success Mornington Peninsula (officially Groomed to Go) where I served for about five years.
What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards?
I’m a people person at my core, so I find most of the value add I bring relates to culture or people aspects. This includes how we leverage data to understand our culture, identifying any people-related risks or opportunities and how this enables strategy. I’m also big on ensuring effective strategy execution. I find organisations often invest a huge amount in developing a strategy that sounds good, but is often not well understood, adopted, or actioned by employees. I’m really honing my director “question set” to ensure the development, monitoring and reporting of strategy is set up well from the start to give the board comfort that it is effective.
When and why did you decide to pursue boards?
When I was leading a small team of three in an operational role, I found it difficult to think longer-term and was given feedback that my strategic thinking could do with some improvement. I saw the opportunity to take part in a board as a great way to develop in this space. It turned out to be a perfect match for me as I find I am more of a hands-on learner than I am a classroom learner.
Becoming a board member has without a doubt made me a better executive and better leader generally. It’s also really helped build my understanding of the perspective of a director when I have my exec hat on; I can better understand the lens through which they are looking at the business and at my performance. As a result, I really value that partnership much more now than I did before my own board career.
What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome in pursuing boards and/or serving on boards?
Logistics! I have two small kids and a full-time exec role, so making sure the meetings, reading time and travel time is all locked in the diary takes military precision. It also takes a flexible employer which I’ve been incredibly lucky to have at Sensand and at South East Water before that. For example, I’ll spend a significant amount of next week undertaking CEO recruitment at one of the boards I’m on, which does often need to occur in traditional paid-work time.
There is real value in organisations providing the time and space for employees to undertake these board duties. It builds their commercial and strategic thinking, not to mention their networks! But I still hear examples where individuals have been required to take that time as annual leave, which seems mad and short-sighted to me.
What do you most like about your board roles?
I love the people! I learn so much by listening to my fellow directors, particularly when it comes to the financials. I am in awe of how they can dissect pages and pages of numbers and data and with one or two questions get to the most salient points in that part of our pack.
Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and have they helped you? If so, how?
Not officially. The board members at South East Water were always so generous with their coaching, feedback and time, so I feel I learned a great deal just being an exec member in that room with them. I’ve also been incredibly lucky over the last 10 years to have some exceptional people to call my boss (a dud here and there too, but I think you learn as much as, if not more from them than the good ones).
How has WOB helped you on your board journey?
WOB has been instrumental. I wouldn’t have come across either role if I hadn’t seen them advertised on the WOB job board.
What, do you think, are the most useful skills you have gained which have helped in your Board career?
The ability to ask great open-ended questions. The Australian Institute of Company Directors course was a great foundation and really helped me differentiate between the role of an exec and the role of the board. The three main areas I focus on when I’ve got my board hat on are strategy, risk and the financials, and sometimes I have to resist the temptation to dive back into the operational side.
I would say the other one is an appreciation of diverse views.
I used to feel like I had less value to add because I am almost always the least experienced person in the room, however I’ve come to see that as strength. In some cases, not knowing how things have been done before, or what we should be expecting can actually be a benefit. You bring a different perspective and experience and I find I can add an incredible amount of value by bringing this to the table. Not being afraid to ask dumb questions helps as well.
Any words of advice for other women starting out in their board journey?
Find an organisation you are values aligned with first. Then reach out to them and make yourself available to support a committee, meeting or other task so you can start to get involved. My first board role came about because I loved what Dress for Success stood for and asked them if I could be involved (and they thankfully said yes!). I do wonder how many other opportunities materialise like this rather than waiting for a formal job to be posted.
Can you tell us something other people might not know about you?
I am a wannabe Muay Thai fighter. Last year I stepped into the ring twice to fight in amateur Muay Thai shows - one win via TKO, one soul-destroying loss.