How going back to school with WOB helped Ruth Ottewill's board career

Just keep learning: That’s the motto WOB member Ruth Ottewill lives by. As National Payroll Manager at Lucent Advisory business advisors and a board member with Diving SA and Northern Economic Leaders - a business leaders’ network in northern Adelaide - Ruth has gained significant experience in many industries and sectors. 

And yet her insatiable thirst for knowledge has seen Ruth return to the classroom with WOB - as a ‘student’ of  The Boardroom School and to WOB’s Build Your Board CV workshop - to bolster her board skills. As she says: “I believe in always learning and there is nobody on this planet that we can’t learn something from.”

What boards are you on and what appealed to you about them?

Northern Economic Leaders (NEL) provides a forum for leaders to share their collective knowledge, influence government policy and bring about change, particularly from a circular economy perspective. The circular economy is focused on eliminating waste and is a critical aspect for all businesses and the world in general, which in part is why I joined NEL. Diving SA is the only diving club in South Australia and is also the state representative association for the sport. Sporting organisations have been close to my heart, ever since my own childhood participation in a number of sports. I find watching people achieve their sporting goals very inspiring.

When and why did you decide to pursue boards?

While completing my MBA I became aware that many non-for-profit organisations can struggle to attract the skills required to fill board positions, due to not being able to remunerate board members. I have always had a philanthropic interest, and this made me want to use my professional expertise to give back to the community and support some of these organisations.

How has WOB helped you on your board journey?

WOB has played a vital role in my boardroom journey – from the courses offered to the networking opportunities and everything in between. Of particular significance were the Build your Board CV with Ruth Medd and The Boardroom School which WOB runs in partnership with Margot Foster. Ruth’s honest and perceptive feedback directly on my board CV draft helped me develop a great CV that I am proud of. Margot has such a depth of knowledge in the boardroom and beyond and I truly enjoyed her course, so much so, that I wished it wasn’t over so soon. Additionally, my current board role at Diving SA was advertised via the WOB vacancy page.

Was it difficult getting your first board role?

The main challenge I found was getting support to obtain that first board position. I have never been someone who shies away from asking for help, but sadly I didn’t always get it in the early days. Sometimes the support comes from unexpected places and a chance meeting at a networking event led to the opportunity for my first board position and that gave me the confidence to apply for other board roles. 

How do you balance your board roles with your ‘day job’?

The challenge with being on a couple of boards and having a ‘day job’ comes in balancing the workload and finding time to balance family, friends and out of work activities. As a person who is very committed when they sign up for something, I have to be careful to allow myself the down time I need to take care of myself – I am sure a lot of people can relate to that.

Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and if so, how have they helped you? 

I have been fortunate enough to have had 3 mentors over my professional career (Mark Ellis – KPMG, Robert Rhodes – BHP and Claire Hughes – Origin Energy), who have provided valuable insights and advice to support my development and enable me to grow to meet my fullest potential. These relationships developed naturally over time and provided me with invaluable feedback, which was based on honesty and mutual respect, designed to support me. 

In addition to formal mentors, I have had other people who have helped me along the way with both my career and board journey. There are more than I can mention here, but to name just a few of these influences – Gary Hermann, Yasser Shahin, Michelle Cox, Franz Knoll and Margot Foster. These people are a combination of professionals I have worked with, people I have met at networking events and members of my current boards, who have become trusted guides and influences in my career. I believe in always learning and there is nobody on this planet that we can’t learn something from.

I always thought the support would come from other women, but as you can see, I have had just as much support from men. I believe that we need both men and women to advocate for each other to help everyone achieve their greatest potential.

What are your three top tips for others looking to join a board?

  • If you want other people to value you, you first need to value yourself – people will not take you seriously until you take yourself seriously. 
  • One of the key lessons I learned from Margot in The Boardroom School was ‘one board member = one voice’. All opinions are important and that’s why boards hire for diversity.
  • Give yourself the best chance by using all the resources at your disposal – whether that is going back to formal study, developing your financial literacy, some of the courses offered by WOB or simply networking with like-minded individuals, just keep learning!

What might people not know about you?

I am a massive ‘petrol head’ and love all things motorsport, indeed one of the most enjoyable positions I had was having the opportunity to be a part of the Volunteer Events Committee for The Bend Motorsport Park supercars events from 2019 to 2021. I also bought a 1963 Austin Healey Sprite earlier this year that we are completing a full restoration job on currently – a much bigger task than I imagined, but it will be well worth the effort once it is finished.

About Ruth

Ruth Ottewill is highly regarded in the area of remuneration and benefits, including industrial relations and employment legislation. She has a strong governance and compliance focus when delivering in fast paced businesses, responding to changing demands. She is recognised for her significant experience in mergers, acquisitions and divestments and has considerable customer and employee experience expertise. 

Ruth is the National Payroll Manager at Lucent Advisory, managing a team who deliver not only outsourced managed payroll services to a high standard but also support the implementation of new payroll systems for clients looking to deliver best practice payroll processes and systems to their workforce.