Fiona brings deep, well developed skills, including the following key ones: (1) experience in the board room gained from sitting at the board table for reputable and key international corporates, including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the United Nations agency, UN Women National Committee here in Australia. She understands the complexity of balancing various stakeholders and world leading brands and positions. (2) experience in growing businesses of all types gained from: - executive leadership roles in media company (C-suite responsible for business development, corporate advisory, corporate development, product, as well as functional teams) - professional advisory services for Australia's largest law firms, Herbert Smith Freehills and Gilbert and Tobin, in the demanding areas of mergers and acquisitions and private equity. (3) continuous learning from Insead MBA, Australian Institute of Company Directors, FINSA, as well as Sydney Uni Law, Economics and Social Science (4) a unique grassroots understanding of culture, teamwork and community, as a volunteer at Sydney University, Industry mentor programmes and various other activities giving back to the community. (5) a deep passion for the growth of sport, media and new ideas in the Australian landscape.
What boards do you sit on?
I currently sit on the board of BBC Studios Australia and New Zealand, where I work as COO. I am also a non-executive director of UN Women National Committee and I have just been appointed to the board of Football NSW.
When and why did you decide to become a director
My desire to become a director stemmed from working in mergers and acquisitions. Advising boards on takeovers, mergers and sell downs meant I was privy to the board debates and decisions I got to see the way some of the most difficult problems and the biggest decisions were determined. It was the place where the rubber hit the road and this appeals to me.
I decided recently to pursue a small and select handful of non-executive board appointments. I have done this because I wanted the experience of being on the board (as compared to advising). I enjoy how boards are required to bring individually diverse experiences and skills from board members together to resolve the most important decisions of an organisation. It is a unique kind of team work and I work well in this environment.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
In the short term, working as a full time executive, I am careful about my workload and conflicts in taking on non-executive appointments. I am focused on organisations and industries operating in sectors that I am passionate about their growth and governance.
In the medium to longer term, I would like to move to ASX listed entities and private equity investment companies (e.g start-up companies preparing for IPO) where I can use my background in corporate advisory, legal, media and technology in the board context.
Outline your career background.
At 19 years old I started working as an enthusiastic paralegal in various law firms in Sydney and later Melbourne. After university I worked as both an employment lawyer and corporate lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills before specialising in mergers and acquisitions. I worked in Berlin at Hogan Lovells in Berlin and, on returning to Sydney, also at Gilbert & Tobin lawyers. In both of these companies I got to work in technology, communications and telecommunications alongside mergers & acquisitions.
Having children and a husband that also had an intense career, I did make the decision to pursue a slightly quieter life as an in-house counsel. As my toddlers became little boys I have been able to take on a broader function as COO. My role now covers business development, strategy, operations, IT, legal and business affairs.
From the get go (more the result of being that person at school that always had after school activities rather than Silcon Valley style schooling), I do tend to have side hustles that I fit in between work. Over the years these have seen me set up and sell my online business, act a talent agent, some university teaching and teaching Latin ballroom.
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
I have not yet experienced challenges of getting on to boards given my approach to date has been around pursuing only a small number of NEP roles while continuing executive work. No doubt this will come in the longer term!
As a board member I think there is a real challenge in understanding what your role is and how it differs from a role as an executive manager. Given my dual approach of doing both at the moment, I am very alive to this challenge and what it means for me. My challenge as a director is how to develop new skills, a new radar about a business that you do not have day to day management control. My challenge is about undertaking the right kind of preparation, active listening and team work with fellow board members to provide clear direction. I have been absolutely blessed with fantastic fellow experienced board members who take their role so seriously to work alongside and part of a great team.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
I look up to Marina Go (Chair of West Tigers NRL club, Chair of Office Brands and NED of the ASX listed company Autosports, while also NED of 7 eleven. Energy Australia as well as a host of not for profits and other organisations).
Marina Go is an absolute stand out in developing board strategies around how to build a brand and reputation for a business. I really admire her work and her board skill. It is, however, her generosity to opening boards up and her strength and resilience to bring about change that is awe inspiring. Marina mentors young women to give them the confidence and the path to become bigger than they think they can. She gives up her time to speak openly and frankly about what is involved and I do believe there is a generation of women in Australia thinking bigger about their positions as future board members and feel they can and have been given a starter path because of Marina Go.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
There are a number of people that I ask counsel, listen, observe and ask for help. They just may not know that they wear as flash a title as ‘mentor’ or ‘sponsor’!
There is my current boss that has provided opportunities and experience since the time I started that has helped in the board room. He is always available as someone to talk something through with a calmness, moral compass and sense of humour often needed. On the issue of gender, he provides me with a wonderful and necessary balanced view.
There is Moya Dodd (ex-Vice Captain Matildas and has over the time being on the FIFA Board and various other boards) who is teaching me the kind of strength needed in leadership.
There are a host of others that although I do not see often, I know I can call on – Sue Gilchrist, Sheila McGregor, Cass O’Connor. They provide a unique counsel from a real-world experience.
What’s the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?
Gender diversity on the boards I have served on has been great and I seek out boards and organisations that want to embrace diversity of thinking.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
WOB provides a great service – great articles and access to speakers and mentors that really means no one needs to feel alone.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
Be open to thinking beyond where you are now and work broadly to develop skills and understanding. Think of it as your responsibility to a future board to have skilled up as much as possible (access and understanding of different industries, industry trends, networks) and start working early to get those skills.