Kathryn Brown - Starting from Scratch: Find the parallels, know your unique skills and don’t forget to network
Updated May 2021
A Charted Accountant by trade, Kathryn Brown is originally from New Zealand where her career kick-started in audit and assurance advisory services for Deloitte’s finance department. She then journeyed to London where she established the private equity division for Henderson Global Investors and then later found her place in Melbourne as Associate Director for alternative assets, and loans and specialised finance for ANZ Banking Group. A persistent desire to step away from the familiar corporate world and make a meaningful contribution to matters close to her heart led Kathryn to a career in directorship. Today she uses her unique skills in funds management, finance, operations, and regulatory compliance to support a range of not-for-profit organisations in the health and social services arenas.
What was your motivation for pursuing a career in Boards?
I had a specialised skillset and a strong yearning to give back to community. Through my role with ANZ, I spent a lot of time reporting to Boards from the other side of the table and I really enjoyed that part of my work, so I paid attention and began looking into ways to change my career. My first role was with Girl Guides Victoria, where I was the Honorary Treasurer on the Executive committee and Chair of Finance, Audit and Risk Committee for three and a half years. You see, I was a Brownie and Girl Guide in New Zealand in my youth and have the fondest memories. When the opportunity came along and they needed someone with a finance background; it was a perfect fit.
The Boards I choose have to resonate with me — there has to be a connection and I have to be able to see if I can actually make a difference to their work. I don’t want to be someone who sits on the Board and just goes through the process. I want to make a positive impact. When it’s time to step down, I want to look back and see the legacy I’ve left.
What was it like getting started?
Starting down the path of being a director is like starting a whole new career. You have to start at the beginning. Initially, I was able to get on some Audit and Risk Committees for a few different organisations, but I wasn’t sure for a while there if I would be able to get a seat on a Board. It actually reminds me of when I started to apply for my first job. Everyone wants someone with experience. I think you have to draw on the other experiences you have had in your career or life that are similar to the role being advertised and make those parallels in your applications and interviews when starting out. Fortunately, I could say I reported to Boards for several years and understood the running of meetings, the role of the Chair and the types of resolutions that were passed.
What boards and committees do you currently sit on?
In the past 12 months, you have been appointed as NED to two different organisations. What has that experience been like during COVID?
- Women’s legal Service Victoria — Non-Executive Director
- Mental First Aid Australia — Non-Executive Director
- COTA Victoria — Board Member, Treasurer, Chair of Finance and Audit Committee
- Palliative Care Victoria — Member of Finance, Risk and Audit Committee
- St Kilda Mums Inc — Member of Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee
- Feminist Writer’s Festival — Member of Audit Committee of Public Fund
I started two new roles last year, that being with Mental First Aid Australia in July and Women’s legal Service Victoria in September as Non-Executive Director and I’ve only met my fellow directors virtually. It’s challenging in a sense because you can’t read the room, there isn’t insight into non-verbal communication like body language and there isn’t that natural flow of conversation when you’re face-to-face and know when to pause, listen and then speak up. In saying that though, there have been advantages as well. I actually don’t now any different because it’s been this way since I began! I’ve found more people can commit to meetings because there’s no travel and there’s also greater accessibility and diversity for the same reason. We have been able to appoint people from regional Victoria for example to roles because they don’t have to travel. I’ve also found meetings seem to follow the agenda more concisely.
How has WOB supported you?
I was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship in 2017 by the Victorian Government for Women on Boards. I attended some great networking events, did my Foundations of Directorship course with the AICD, the ‘Get to Know WOB’
course and was granted a membership with the AICD. I’ve been a member of WOB since and really value being part of an organisation that supports women on their directorship paths. The regular updates via the newsletter and social media have been hugely beneficial. It was during the height of COVID that I dialed into a few different meetings where members were invited to chat about the various challenges they were encountering. It was nice to be connected with people again and to know that I wasn’t alone at home facing these problems. My problems were also everyone else’s problems, which was comforting.
You talk about being a ‘flexible professional’. How has a Board career afforded you flexibility?
In conjunction to the various Board and Committee roles that I serve, I am a consultant and sit on the Disciplinary Tribunal for Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand. This type of work means I am available for my family — my daughter is 14 and my son is 10, and they are both at busy stages in their lives. I am also available for Board meetings. Being a Treasurer, a lot of the work is done outside of meetings and because I am part of several small non-for-profit organisations, they don’t have the luxury of large finance departments. I can make myself available for phone calls to discuss any finance issues they might be experiencing.
What do you most enjoy about your board roles?
Finance is my background. It’s what I know best, as well as risk and compliance. From my experience of sitting on several not-for-profit boards, I am able to see how governance and management is done in different organisations. Of course there is a lot of similarity, but having the opportunity to discuss an issue at one meeting undoubtedly benefits my involvement on the other Boards. I really enjoy being able to make a contribution in this way.
What advice would you pass onto your younger self?
- I would think about getting started sooner and exploring what is involved. I naively thought I had robust experience and skills and it would be easy to find a position, but it’s not the case. You’re still starting from scratch.
- Talk to people. One of my positions has come via word-of-mouth. I went through the formal interview process, but it was through the Board’s contacts that I was approached. I’ve learnt that not all roles are necessarily advertised and therefore, networking in person and online is critical.
- Get a mentor early in the process. I’ve never had one. I’ve actually never actively sought one, and it’s not too late now. I think finding someone that resonates with you will help you along the journey.
- I would remind myself that it takes time. I thought I would never get a seat on a Board, but as my experience has broadened, opportunities have presented themselves. It’s about patience and persistence.
What are your next steps?
I’d love to get a role on a Board of a government department or private company. I’m still not using my funds managements skills so much — it’s more my accounting. A small family office would be ideal!
About Kathryn Brown
Kathryn is a qualified Chartered Accountant who has extensive knowledge of accounting, funds management and banking sectors. Her work experience includes auditing, regulatory compliance and risk management roles with international experience in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. She is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, has a Diploma in Superannuation through the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) and is also RG146 skilled. Kathryn sits on a number of Boards and Audit and Risk Committees in the not-for-profit sector. She also sits on the Disciplinary Tribunal for Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand and provides financial consulting services.