Ruth is an experienced and successful business consultant with extensive international experience of working with SME business owners, CEOs and boards. She is co-founder of a boutique management consultancy practice in FNQ, is a member of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, the Institute of Management Consultants and a Graduate member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Ruth is a Non-Executive Director of three not-for-profit organisations in the Australian health sector and an independent member of several audit and risk committees.
What boards do you sit on?
- North Queensland Primary Health Network (Chair Finance, Audit and Risk Management Committee)
- Neami National (member Finance, Audit and Risk Management Committee)
- Mental Health and Wellbeing Australia (member Finance, Audit and Risk Management Committee)
- James Cook University Audit, Risk and Compliance Committee
- Mareeba Shire Council Audit Committee (Chair)
- Australian Physiotherapy Association Audit and Risk Committee
When and why did you decide to become a director?
I became a director for the first time in 2013 when I was asked to become a non-executive director and inaugural chair of an agribusiness start-up that my husband and I had invested in. I had been asked to join two not-for-profit boards prior to that but had always said no due to a fear of the time commitment and personal risk involved. When asked for a third time I decided to commit to the position, to better understand the risk and to become the best director I could be.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
My board aspirations have always focused on the intellectual challenges involved and the ability to tap into my commercial skills, networks and experiences to be a strategic leader. In the short-term my aim is to be a valued board director for the three not-for-profit organisations that I am committed to. My medium-term aspirations are to ensure my relevancy to those boards and not to outstay my welcome.
Outline your career background.
My career background is varied and far from conventional. I trained as an auditor and business advisor with Arthur Andersen in London and qualified as a chartered accountant in 1996. An unexpected health issue (I broke my neck) derailed my career and I stepped back from my Senior Audit position to take some time out for rehabilitation. The following ten years saw me travelling and working in Africa, Central America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. An alternative career as a scuba dive instructor in Honduras occupied my time for a while. However, in 2006 I settled permanently in Australia and established a business consultancy practice in Far North Queensland. In 2009 I chaired my first Audit and Risk Committee and have developed my board and committee portfolio ever since.
Touch on the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
I think the biggest challenges for aspiring board directors include gaining an understanding of what it means to be a director, how that differs to your ‘day job’, how to identify and articulate your value and how you can position yourself as a possible directorship candidate. I spent time getting to know the directorship environment in Australia through my WOB membership, attending various WOB and AICD events and speaking to colleagues who already had directorships. Completing the AICD Company Directors Course was also highly beneficial.
Once on a board, the biggest challenges for me are the travel and the overwhelming amount of reading, reflecting, reviewing and ‘immersing’ required to have a deep understanding of your sector and organisation. I’ve become skilled at using my travel time productively and prioritising events and readings to maximise my value add. For those of us who live in rural and remote Australia, it’s also essential to be digitally savvy and embrace virtual meetings.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
I look up to those directors/leaders that do not necessarily bask in the lime-light of success and reputation. Those not-for-profit leaders who quietly get on with the job of improving peoples lives or the natural environment or whatever social purpose motivates them. Not-for-profit directors/leaders are some of the most humble and hardworking people I’ve ever met. Few are household names. Those are the people I admire.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
I have had colleagues and associates who have been instrumental in helping me secure new roles, but I have never had a mentor or sponsor.
What’s the diversity (gender & other) like on your boards?
The diversity on my boards is generally very good. There have been brief periods of time where I’ve been the only female but all three boards I am now on have close to 50:50 gender diversity and two are chaired by a woman. I think the broader question, and the area where we all could do better, involves diversity of age, experience, culture and background.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
WOB gave me the confidence to proceed at my own pace and helped me articulate a directorship pathway plan. They’ve also been invaluable in building a new network of professionals. As a migrant to Australia, I had to start from scratch building a network and a profile. WOB were exceptionally valuable in that regard.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
Don’t worry if you get derailed and don’t worry if you find yourself doing something you never dreamed you’d do. Identify what your career and life objectives are and then stay true to yourself.
Interview published: September 2018