Sophie is an experienced company director who has worked in Australia and internationally across private and public businesses, professional services, and not for profits. Sophie is currently Deputy Chair of Big Fat Smile; Deputy Chair of the Shoalhaven Women's Resource Group and a Director of Silos Estate Winery. Previously, she sat on the Board of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Foundation and spent fourteen years as a corporate lawyer in Australia & the UK. Sophie has particular skills in working with companies in highly regulated industries across a range of regulatory environments; and with companies with complex geographical spreads, workforces and stakeholders. Sophie has lived and/or worked in the UK, China, France, Uganda, and in both Sydney and regional NSW. Consequently, she brings a unique perspective and agility to the companies with which she works.
What boards do you sit on currently?
Big Fat Smile; Shoalhaven Women’s Resource Group; and I'm a Director of Silos Estate Winery
When and why did you decide to become a director?
I was asked to join a local Not for Profit Board in 2014, after volunteering on a number of community committees. Around the same time, I was thinking about returning to employment after a few years being a full time Mum. I loved the challenges of being a director, the opportunities to contribute to companies I was passionate about and the flexibility that Board roles offer, so decided that was the path I wanted to go down.
What are your short and medium-term board aspirations?
Short term, I’m actively looking for a role on a private or public company board (possibly ASX listed) and/or a Government Board. Longer term, I’d like to build a Board Portfolio Career across a range of sectors.
outline your career background.
I spent fourteen years as a corporate lawyer at Dunhill Madden Butler and PricewaterhouseCoopers in Sydney and London, also sitting on the Board of the PwC Foundation. In 2007, my husband and I bought a small business on the South Coast of NSW. I left PwC to concentrate on our business and family, and did a lot of volunteer work in our local community. I now also sit on a number of Boards as a paid Company Director.
outline the challenges and hurdles that have presented themselves, either being on or getting onto a board, and how you overcame them?
Living in a regional area, the biggest challenge has been getting on to a board when I no longer have strong networks in the city and corporate world. To overcome this, I joined the AICD and did the AICD Company Directors’ Course; and joined Women on Boards several years ago. I’m currently a participant in the WOBSX pilot programme. Both WOB and AICD have helped me to build networks and skills and find board positions advertised through their sites. I also looked for Board opportunities in the local area to get my first experience, which then gave me the skills I needed to look further afield.
Are there any directors/leaders you look up to? Why?
I’m a big fan of Quentin Bryce and Gillian Triggs, who have both worked so hard for many years to support people with difficult lives, and have managed to navigate the ‘corridors of power’ to the highest levels, sometimes in the face of shocking opposition, while still remaining true to their beliefs and speaking out in a considered way when they felt it necessary.
Have you had mentors and sponsors and how have they helped you in your career?
I haven’t had formal mentors or sponsors but there have been particular people who have helped me along the way. I was fortunate to work for several partners at PwC who supported me to take overseas opportunities and allowed me to work flexibly with small children. My husband Raj, who is a company director on several boards including an ASX listed company, pushed me to take up the first directorship opportunity when I was doubtful, and has shared the juggle of business and family life to allow me to take other opportunities as they’ve arisen. And David Campbell, the Chair of Big Fat Smile, has given me space and support to grow my director skills and has always been generous with giving me input and feedback, and sharing his experiences.
What’s the diversity like on your boards?
I sit on very diverse Boards, both in terms of gender and ethnicity. The Big Fat Smile Board has three women and four men, with a female CEO; and he Shoalhaven Women’s Resource Group has an all female Board by its constitution, but our work/professional backgrounds are diverse.
How did WOB help you in your journey to the boardroom?
Several of my Board positions were advertised on the WOB website. The weekly newsletters with articles about other women building directorship careers and opportunities for female directors are always extremely useful and provide a boost when I’m finding the going as a director tough . Most recently, I was selected for the first WOBSX pilot program, which started in March. I’m loving my regular meetings and training sessions with twelve fabulous women at different stages of their directorship careers - the collegiality and support in the group, and the insights and feedback from our ASX mentors has really helped me focus on next steps in building my career.
Any tips for women starting out in their career?
Taking a volunteer role on a Board is a great way to start, as it allows you to build some skills and understand more about the role of the Director. I’d strongly encourage women to do a Company Directors Course, but it’s particularly valuable when you’re already on a Board, even as a volunteer. And most of all, don’t hesitate to apply for a role even if you don’t tick every box on the selection criteria – many Boards find it difficult to articulate what they’re looking for, and may see in you something they need, even though you don’t completely match what they’ve outlined in their position description.
Interview published: June 2018