Justine Jarvinen (JJ) has more than 24 years of experience spanning the energy, finance, charity and university sectors, and has held technical, commercial, strategic, advisory and board roles across the energy value chain. She has been employed by ExxonMobil, Shell and AGL Energy, and was a leading energy equity analyst at JBWere. She is currently Chief Operating Officer of the University of NSW Energy Institute and co-founder of Finncorn Consulting.
JJ particularly enjoys helping organisations and their boards to anticipate change, reposition strategy, conceive new business models, create partnerships and build capabilities. She is helping to lead the digitisation of the electricity industry and was instrumental in establishing AGL’s New Energy division.
She has held a variety of non-executive board positions and is currently Director of Milton Corporation, Chairman of Wattwatchers, and Director of Pollinate Energy.
JJ holds a First-Class Honours degree in Chemical Engineering; has a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance and Investment; is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (Order of Merit); and a Fellow of FINSIA.
What boards do you sit on?
- I’m a Non-Executive Director for Milton Corporation Limited, an ASX-listed investment company with a market capitalisation of ~$3bn; I also sit on the board’s Investment Committee and the Nomination Committee.
- I am Chairman of Wattwatchers, an innovative Australian technology start-up that is digitising the electricity sector and enabling new business models.
- I’m a Non-Executive Director of Pollinate Energy, a social enterprise that provides life-changing products to customers in Nepal and India; I also sit on the board’s Risk, Audit and Finance Committee.
When and why did you decide to become a director?
My board journey started about 2 decades ago when a colleague suggested that I nominate to join the board of our energy company’s employee credit union. Much later, in 2013, a friend introduced me to the board of a charity where there was an excellent fit for my prior experience as a charity analyst. My director journey accelerated in 2015 when my employer at the time, AGL Energy, acquired stakes in two start-up companies and, as I had played a leading role in those deals and had relished prior governance roles, I put my hand up to sit on the boards of both companies. Being a director is intellectually rewarding and I enjoy the opportunity to apply my prior technical, financial, strategic and stakeholder liaison experiences to provide a big-picture perspective.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
In the short-term I am very focussed on my current board roles; the three organisations are very different from each other, with different complexities and business opportunities. In the medium-term, I’d like to bring my decades of energy sector experience to serve the board of a government-owned energy company, such as an electricity network company.
Outline your career background.
My career journey seems more logical in retrospect than it did as I was navigating various phases. I graduated as an engineer and held technical and commercial roles at multinational energy companies. I studied finance part-time while working, then became an energy equity analyst in the fast-paced world of stockbroking. I moved to London and continued this career theme in an energy sector corporate finance role. I then leveraged my prior experience as an equity analyst and became a charity analyst (I have long been fascinated by social return on investment, not just financial return on investment). When I moved back to Australia I held a series of roles at AGL Energy, including heading up the emerging technologies function, and as a founding executive of the New Energy division. After a few years being an independent consultant, I am now Chief Operating Officer of the UNSW Energy Institute. Along the way I’ve held a variety of board roles and studied the AICD Company Directors Course, so I now balance executive and non-executive roles.
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
I’ve been fortunate that people have suggested roles and made introductions for some of my NED opportunities. But introductions haven’t always led to appointments, because there’s not always a perfect fit and it’s very much a two-way process, so it can take time to land the right role. I log onto WOB to see opportunities (which is how I got one role); I keep my LinkedIn profile up to date (which is how I got another role); I keep my eye on the AFR directorship vacancy ads on Fridays; and I once speculatively reached out directly to an organisation where I reckoned I’d be a good fit.
Regardless of how the opportunity arises, I am rigorous about analysing my fit for any potential role and how my skills and experience make sense for that organisation’s activities, and also for that mix of people at that board table at that time. That is hard to judge perfectly from the outside, but it can help get to the short-list stage. From there, it’s up to the selection committee to decide how you complement the existing directors.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
- When I was a charity analyst in London, the CEO, Martin Brookes, courageously lived by the motto that “Doing good isn’t good enough” for charities. He advocated for, and made a science of, demonstrating impact for charities, so that they could do good work even better. I regularly use his wisdom and thought processes in both the not-for-profit sector and in the corporate sector.
- At AGL I respected and enjoyed working for then-CEO Michael Fraser, who is now a Director of Aurizon and Chairman of APA. He helped staff to “live” the organisation’s values, and celebrated and rewarded how people did things, not just what they did. It had a remarkable effect on culture and, years after leaving AGL, I can still name the company’s values and feel empowered to start conversations about ethics.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
Yes, there have been too many thoughtful people to name. When I was a new graduate I was assigned a formal mentor, who observed that I sometimes held back my thoughts in meetings and told me, “Don’t sell yourself short”. I was quite shy, so it took me a while to regularly put that into practice, and I still reflect on it when I need to feel brave. A variety of informal sponsors over the years have changed my thinking and my path by encouraging me to apply for roles that I hadn’t imagined myself in yet, or actively suggesting me for roles that I didn’t know were available.
What’s the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?
I’ve often been one of very few females in the room throughout my engineering/energy/stockbroking career, so it’s not a big surprise that I’m the only woman at the board table for two of my three NED roles. But I’ve learned over many years that diversity is multi-faceted, and I benefit from the diversity of skills, sectors, business experience and perspectives of my fellow directors on all of the boards that I’m on.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
I had been following Pollinate Energy online since about 2012/2013, ever since I saw one of the co-founders present her vision to create a social enterprise to bring solar lights and other technology to families in slums in India; the idea and execution plan literally gave me goose bumps. When WOB listed two vacancies for the Pollinate Energy board in 2016, I enthusiastically applied and was successful. I also value the WOB Snap! emails from Ruth Medd.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
- My first tip is that it is important to bring your unique expertise to a board. In my case, an early career experience as an equity analyst was invaluable in later becoming a charity analyst; in turn that was pivotal in becoming a director of a charity, where I could apply the best practice that I’d observed and analysed. Knowing what you can offer and how that fits with a board’s needs is enormously helpful.
- My second tip is to look for organisations for which you have a passion, not just a relevant fit, because being a director is hard work and, even if your board role is unpaid, you have to maintain your responsiveness and fiduciary duty through thick and thin.