Mary Verschuer is an experienced non-executive director with recent tenure on three ASX boards, Maxitrans (MXI, current), Nuplex (NPX) and THC Global (THC) and is currently Chair of The Infants Home. Previously she has experience on joint ventures, charities, research and development and training bodies. As an executive she has had global operational CEO roles in industrial businesses leading the Minerals and Metals business for Schenck Process, a German PE owned business with revenues of 600M€, and leading the Asian business for Huhtamaki, a Finnish listed niche packaging business with market cap of over 3B€. Both roles had responsibility for manufacturing, supply chain and sales operations in diverse geographies and cultures, with very deep experience in Asia. In her early career Mary progressed from being an industrial chemist in the energy and paint industries into sales and marketing roles in industrial chemical supply and packaging and finally into general management in the packaging industry. Her diversity of board and executive roles brings deep commercial acumen, insightful review, sound judgement, a passion for R&D, extensive people leadership in an international context, a good understanding of digital and an ability to draw from a wide spectrum of experience bringing new ideas and solutions. During her board career she has experience in global oversight of manufacturing operations, capital raisings, sale of a business to private equity, CEO and board selection, an IPO, governance of innovation, crisis management and strategy renewal. She has participated in audit and risk, people and safety committees. Her executive experience gives her a solid background for board review and oversight with deep expertise in mission critical manufacturing and processing operations, global operations and supply chain management, business to business sales, safety and sustainability, green field development, initiating and integrating acquisitions to achieve strategic priorities, operational and technical risk management and strategy development and execution.
What boards do you currently sit on?
Maxitrans ASX:MXI since Jan 19
The Infants Home since 2008, Chair since 2017
TAFE NSW Sydney Region Advisory Board since Jan 19
And two significant previous boards:
Nuplex ASX:NPX and THC global ASX:THC
When and why did you decide to become a director?
I had been on the board of industry associations throughout my career and decided that I would move into a NED career after my position was made redundant in 2008. As always the best laid plans of mice and men – it took a lot longer than I thought.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
To gain 2 more ASX roles – preferably in industrial style businesses with an international focus.
Outline your career background.
I began life as an industrial chemist and moved from the lab into sales and marketing, general management, regional leadership and ultimately MD, CEO and global BU President. I’ve always worked in manufacturing companies from paint to chemicals to packaging then engineering and heavy equipment. My 5 NED roles to date all built on my exec experiences in global business with a manufacturing and technical bent.
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
The biggest hurdle for me was getting board roles. I had never worked for an ASX listed business and since this is where I want to play that’s a disadvantage. When I first started the process in 2008 it was pointed out to me that my experience was a little narrow (I had not been a CEO) and so I actually went back to exec life and took on a CEO role specifically to get that experience. This has been invaluable in understanding the challenges CEOs face running their businesses. I’ve had to build my network along the way and this in itself can be a full time job. I started by reconnecting with colleagues who had moved into NED careers and worked from there. It was one of these connections that lead to my first ASX NED at Nuplex.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
There are many - but I’m not naming names. The magic of a board is the diversity of skills and ways of thinking around the table and so it isn’t so much individual performances that stand out but the way people interact in the board room. Having said that the Chair is critical to this process and I’ve seen good chairs and bad chairs in my experience. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of doing your due diligence on the Chair.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
I’ve had mentors throughout my exec career – some formal some informal. In the NED space sponsors are as important as mentors. These are usually people you have worked with who can attest to your capability and collegiality in the board room. My first ASX role came about directly because of the relationship I had with a mentor/sponsor from my days as an exec.
What is the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards? If you sit on a mix of diverse and non-diverse boards, what differences have you noticed?
In my most recent board roles there was only one where I was the only woman in the room, the others all have two or more female directors. To be honest it didn’t really make a difference to me but then I have spent my whole exec career often being the only woman in the room so I know how to be heard. It is important to get diversity of thought in the board – and as long as you can get this while you work towards diversity in gender and ethnicity the board can function successfully.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
WOB was instrumental in my success, from the early workshops on how to position yourself as a NED and how to build a board CV, to the conferences where I built my network, to the adverts – two of my boards came from WOB ads; TIH and TAFE.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
Get your first NED role while still in an exec career. And if you see NED roles in your future take on line leadership roles – they are an excellent precursor.
Any other comments or insights?
It is going to take time – lots of it. Treat your networking as a project and manage it accordingly. Build relationships within the NED community not just with head hunters.