Educate yourself, stay current: Jane Crombie's life lessons
WOBSX Susan Oliver syndicate member Jane Crombie has an enviable list of board roles to her name - adding three governance roles during and immediately after the director-led WOBSX peer-to-peer support program that accelerates women into ASX board roles.
But the former exercise physiologist, ski guide and outback wool grower’s journey from being the ‘new girl in town’ while living on a remote sheep station in Western Queensland (where the local health committee met in the pub) and accidentally getting her first Director role, to now sitting on six Boards and committees has certainly been an interesting one.
She describes her first foray into Chairmanship as a “baptism of fire”, but one which set her on the path to develop her Director career further, and eventually go on to completing an MBA in her mid-50s. It was this decision she said which led to her securing a number of governance positions including her current role as a consultant with Directors Australia.
What boards and committees do you currently sit on?
AICD – Qld Division Council
Freemasons Board of Benevolence - Non-Executive Director, Chair Audit and Risk Committee, Investment Committee.
RSL Queensland Investment Committee
HLB Mann Judd Investment Committee
ImpaQt Qld Investment Taskforce
PwC External Advisory Committee – Risk and Compliance
AMA Qld Finance, Audit, and Risk Committee
What other boards have you previously been on?
Australian Unity - Chair - Premium Investment Committee
Anglican Schools Commission (FSAC Ltd) - Non-Executive Director. Audit and Risk Committee
Springfield Anglican College – Council member and Chair Nominations Committee
SecondBite Qld Advisory Board
The Impact Suite – fintech start-up
Somerville House Foundation - Chair + Non-Executive Director
What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards?
My corporate background is in financial services where I have 15 years’ experience leading portfolio construction, risk management, and investment analysis for superannuation, membership, and philanthropic organisations. This gives me a deep understanding of the financial services regulatory and governance environment. I also bring a specialised skillset in the investment implications of ESG and climate change.
As a practising director I have experience in: strategy; risk; investment governance; ESG and climate change; and CEO succession.
Recently I completed an MBA which added skills and knowledge relevant to contemporary boards including crisis management, technology investment, and entrepreneurship. During the course I competed as a healthtec founder at a global start-up competition, giving me a first-hand understanding of the start-up world. My final MBA thesis explored best practice for board oversight of culture.
I have the privilege of working as a governance consultant with Directors Australia. In this role I see issues facing boards across a wide cross-section of sectors and industries.
When and why did you decide to pursue boards?
When first married, I lived on a remote sheep station in western Qld. The nearest town had 150 residents, a pub and a post office. It also had a Bush Nursing Association, the first-line medical service for the district. As the new girl in town, I quickly found myself on the committee, which met monthly at the pub. This gave me my first taste of governance and how it feels to have a seat at the table.
My first Director role was accidental. While waiting to pick up my daughter from a school function one evening, I attended the AGM for the school’s Foundation. By the end of the meeting, I’d been voted onto the Board. This is not the approach I recommend. Due diligence is important to ensure you have relevant skills, are a cultural fit, and can commit to the organisation’s purpose. Luckily this proved to be the case.
I enjoyed the experience so completed the AICD Company Directors course, which was invaluable. Not long afterwards I was offered the chance to chair the board as it transitioned to a company structure. And while a baptism of fire for a newly qualified director, working to establish governance structures from scratch was a crash course in chairmanship. After this experience I knew I’d like to develop my director career further.
Tell us a little about your interesting career path, and decision to do an MBA in your 50s.
I left it quite late to start a professional career. My original qualification was in sports science, and I worked as an exercise physiologist for a number of years. I travelled extensively when I was in my 20s, including a ski season in the Pyrenees Mountains and a stint as a tour guide taking groups of 18–35-year-olds around Europe.
At one stage I was an outback wool grower, complete with sheepdog and motorbike. Family members have suggested over the years that my choices made me look not so much adaptive and agile, as flighty, and indecisive.
Most recently, I’d spent over 15 years working in superannuation and investment. A couple of years ago, I followed my intuition and fulfilled a long-held desire to do an MBA. The aim was to add some academic credibility against this rather erratic career backdrop and increase my competence as a Company Director.
I was well above the average age for an MBA student, and it had been a long time between studies. The digital world had moved on somewhat and there were many emergency technology tutoring sessions with my Millennial offspring. I managed to submit 50 pieces of MBA assessment as a two-finger typist.
I met a lot of resistance for this decision – many people questioned why I would take on an MBA at my career stage (I was 56 when I started). But it was one of my best decisions, and equipped me with technical skills and networks, but also increased confidence as a contributor to boards.
The MBA is a great board qualification. I can honestly say I have channelled elements of every subject into the boardroom. The qualification was a deciding factor in gaining a number of governance positions, and led directly to my current role as a consultant with Directors Australia.
What do you most enjoy about your board role/s?
The ability to channel my qualifications, skill, and professional experience to make a genuine contribution where I’m inspired by an organisation’s purpose.
There is a selfish reason – I relish the stimulation of learning from board colleagues and being challenged by good minds. I am currently learning a great deal about impact investing for youth at risk on the Freemasons board, and about the support needed by Australia’s defence veterans as a member of the RSLQ Investment Committee. To work with the committed and highly experienced members of the AICD Qld Council on behalf of members is a real privilege.
Increasingly I find I can transfer experience from one board to the context of another – a sort of cross-pollination to the benefit of all.
My investment governance roles use my repertoire of skills to make an impact on outcomes for potentially thousands of people across a number of membership organisations.
Every meeting, every set of papers, every difficult situation that arises is an opportunity for continuous improvement. It’s a gift to sit on a board.
Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and have they helped you? If so, how?
In my opinion, mentors can be your secret weapon. They can coach you through challenging scenarios, identify knowledge gaps, and help find suitable positions. Ideally one will become your champion, promoting you for roles within their network.
I am fortunate to have had a couple of senior female mentors who have set the bar high. They’re generous and forthright and have been pivotal to my development. I prioritise returning the favour by spending time with developing directors.
How has WOB helped you on your board journey?
Some years ago I completed the WOB CV workshop with Ruth Medd which was really helpful. It’s important to invest in the tools which can help you stand out. I’ve also made some great contacts at WOB networking events.
But the most valuable experience was undoubtedly the WOBSX program. I was a member of the Susan Oliver syndicate which finished last year.
Adapting to COVID made our group closer, as we arranged extra online meetings to keep the momentum going while we were unable to meet face to face, and these still continue fortnightly.
Our chair was exceptional at arranging high profile senior ASX directors and board search firms as guest speakers for our group and they spoke frankly under Chatham House rules. Twelve months on, our syndicate remains highly supportive of each other, sharing resources and opportunities.
Recently one of our group made the very short list for a high-profile board. She generously shared with us what she’d learnt from the process. Another described in detail the experience of being successfully appointed to an ASX-listed board.
By the end of the WOBSX program we were all well-networked, had sharp elevator pitches and board CVs, and were crystal clear on our value proposition as directors. For me it was a great investment. I added three governance roles during and immediately after the course.
Any words of advice for other women starting out on their board journey?
The obvious answers to this question are:
Networking - always focus on what you can offer rather than what you can gain. Be patient, sow the seeds. In my experience, a genuine interaction can bear fruit 6 or 12 months after the initial conversation.
Take every chance to put your hand up for committees, working groups, industry bodies, advisory boards, or start-ups
Get some help with your LinkedIn profile, elevator pitch and Board CV. These should clearly articulate your value proposition as a director.
Mentors can be your secret weapon.
But a few additional thoughts:
Think long and hard about why you want to be a director and what types of boards you are targeting. Are you experienced in a highly regulated industry for example? How can this translate to the board role you’re interested in? For me, my knowledge of ESG and climate change from my investment career is highly transferable to the board context
Educate yourself and stay current, whether it be via WOB, AICD or Governance Institute courses, webinars, or events
I often hear people say they are looking for well-paid board roles. I think you can underestimate the benefits of sitting on a pro bono board with experienced directors. As well as contributing to the organisation, you’re building your networks and receiving continuous on-the-job governance training
Do extensive due diligence on an organisation before you apply to a board to ensure your values are aligned, and your skills are a good fit. Protect your reputation by being discerning about the roles you consider – don’t waste the recruiter’s time and don’t be afraid to say no if a role is not right for you. My colleagues in the board recruiting team at Directors Australia tell me it’s surprising how often candidates don’t prepare sufficiently for interviews. Differentiate yourself by the depth of your research and by your well-informed questions. Do a media scan before the interview for any issues facing the organisation and research who’s on the panel.
Finally, never use people or let people down. Those who are willing to assist you will lose interest quickly if you don’t follow through on an introduction they’ve made for you, or you don’t deliver what you’ve promised on schedule. Integrity is everything.
Find out more about WOBSX
WOBSX is a director-led peer-to-peer support program that accelerates women into ASX board roles. It aims to get 25% or more of participants onto ASX or equivalent boards within two years of completion of the program.
Find out more about WOBSX HERE.