Theresa Best's postive spin: Former Cricket Victoria NED on making a difference through boards
Theresa Best is an experienced non-executive and executive director with experience in the manufacturing, education, for purpose and sport sectors specialising in marketing, communication and brand management, strategy and policy. The last 12 years Theresa has held a senior marketing role with national building supplier  Southern Star Group. This year she was appointed a NED on the Barwon Health Foundation Board and  the Australasian Birth Trauma Association - advertised through WOB. Before taking these two new roles, Theresa was a NED on the board of Cricket Victoria for four years  - a role she was encouraged to ‘throw her at hat in the ring' for and which she says was a "massive learning curve". In this interview Theresa talks about her experience with for-profit and sporting boards and how she is working towards creating a NED career portfolio to help to effect positive change.  As she says: "I want what I do on a daily basis to make a difference in people’s and family’s lives".

Congratulations on your two new board appointments - tell us a little about them

I am currently non-executive director of the Australasian Birth Trauma Association (ABTA) after my recent appointment on 1 July 2022.  The ABTA role was advertised through WOB and I am pleased and excited to have been appointed alongside other WOB members.  I am also non-executive director on the Barwon Health Foundation Board, and I spent 4 years as an appointed non-executive director on the board of Cricket Victoria (CV) up until June 2022.  While on the CV Board, I chaired the Community Cricket Committee and the Communications and Stakeholder Relations Committee was a member of the Nominations and Remuneration and People and Culture Committees. I also chaired a committee which was formed by the G21 Regional Alliance and CV to review the governance structure of the Barwon Cricket region.

How did you get involved with Cricket Victoria?

My appointment to the Cricket Victoria board was a process that was undertaken by an executive search agency.  I had been encouraged to ‘throw my hat in the ring’ by some associates in the cricket space in Geelong (including a former Cricket Australia Chair). I had long been working around cricket in the region and had been very involved in a feasibility study and business plan for the region working with CV and Cricket Australia over that time. I was drawn to the role not necessarily because of an interest in cricket, but more a commitment to the value that community sports plays in a society and because of the value and benefit it brings to participants of all ages.

And what other boards have you been on?

I started on boards as a non-executive director in the for-purpose and education sectors.  These included the Geelong Football Club Foundation in 2003, and The Geelong College’s Foundation and Alumni Association in 2006. In 2011 I was invited to join the Western Division Advisory Board of the Salvation Army and then, later in 2012, I was also appointed to the Army’s Corporate and Philanthropic Advisory Committee in Melbourne.  I became a NED of the Geelong and Region T20 Board in around 2014.

What areas of expertise do you feel you bring to your boards?

The most valuable thing I think I can offer a board is my desire to make a difference to and help the organisation that I am representing to achieve its goals by applying the skills and experience I have in the commercial and for purpose sectors. A large chunk of my experience has been in the for-purpose space, and the community and social enhancement factor is a strong motivator for me. Cricket too, apart from the high-performance aspects, is, in its essence, a community, inclusive organisation providing everyone the opportunity to develop a passion to play or follow cricket.  Its key purpose is to inspire and support all Victorians to love cricket and the strategy is driven by diversity and inclusion. My career has been in marketing, communications, stakeholder engagement and I have strong commercial acumen – all these skills and experience are valuable when applied in the boardroom – but none of that would have much value if I wasn’t inspired by the purpose of the business that I represent as a director.

What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome in your board career?

The interesting thing about boards, of course, is that they are generally made up of a diverse group of people who have not spent a lot of time together prior to joining the board and, in some cases, don’t even know each other.  This throws up many challenges because it is not like a workplace where you spend all your working days with a group of people to achieve specific organisational goals.  People join a board for a variety of reasons and it is a different dynamic when you are seeing each other intermittently – only 3-4 times a month probably for board or committee meetings – and are working through complex themes and activities to support your executive team to meet a mutual end. 

Unfortunately, I have had a couple of the worst experiences of my career on boards with some ‘difficult’ personalities. Having said that, those instances have helped me to nurture my negotiation and communication skills as well as maturing my understanding of my own emotional intelligence.  I am proud of the fact that, despite enduring some very combative and robust deliberations around the board table, I was still able to work through these unpleasant situations in a constructive way to influence organisational transformation and deliver positive outcomes. 

One other challenge that I have had, particularly in the early stages, was to ‘think like a director’ – I love strategy and have been involved in developing strategy in my executive career. But I am also a ‘doer’ and I had to learn to temper my operational impulse!

What do you most like about being on boards?

Being on a board is an enormous learning curve and I have learned so much in the last four  years with CV in particular. What I find most rewarding both as a NED and as a member of an advisory board/committee, is being able to use my skills and experience to help achieve the purpose of a variety of different organisations – especially when it adds value to a community.  You also meet so many clever and inspiring people.  I have made some good friends on the boards I have served in an advisory capacity and as a NED and these relationships have led to working with those same people on other projects as well.  The diversity, the challenge, and the feeling of satisfaction when things come together is terrific.

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

I was very fortunate to have a mentor very early in my career. Initially she was my boss, but she became my biggest advocate and mentor.

Without my mentor I may not have pursued anything to advance my career – I have always been prone to bouts of ‘imposter syndrome’!  However, she always told me that I had the skills to do anything I wanted – or at least the skills to learn to do anything.  “Worry about what you don’t know when you get to it – you will work your way through” she told me.  She encouraged me to apply for roles way beyond what I believed my capability to be.  And when I did, I was successful.    She is the reason I have had such a fulfilling career so far and whenever I have self-doubt, I remember her words, her encouragement, and her faith in me.

Similarly, without the cricket people in Geelong, with whom I have worked on several community projects over time, encouraging me to express interest in the CV NED role, I probably wouldn’t have done that either. I have been blessed to have these people supporting me and seeing more in me than I could see.

How has WOB helped you on your board journey?

I am a relatively new member of WOB but I joined so that I might be able to meet some like-minded women who were developing their board careers as I am, and to take advantage of the various events, workshops and seminars that might assist me on my way.  The weekly vacancies email has been invaluable in helping me identify roles that I am interested in. I may never had heard of these roles without WOB. I have also sat in on some online workshops that have been incredibly enlightening and inspiring.

What are your board plans for the future?

The experiences I have had as executive director on boards and as a member of advisory boards/committees inspired me to want to pursue a career in governance as I transitioned out of my executive career. My time with CV as a NED has strengthened that desire even more and now I would like to create a NED career portfolio with organisations that inspire me, hold the same values that I do  and with which I can help to effect positive change.  I am particularly interested in the aged care and health sectors.  I want what I do on a daily basis to make a difference in people’s and family’s lives.  I was lucky enough to be successful in being awarded a scholarship for the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ Director Course in 2021.  

What are the most useful skills you have gained in your board journey?

  • Understanding that my contribution is important even when it differs from the views of others.  A divergent point of view in the mix of deliberations enables decision making to be more robust and thorough and helps to validate outcomes.

  • I have learned how to think more laterally, explore options more thoroughly and ask questions – even if I think they may sound naïve.

I have learned how to deal with strong personalities and not be afraid to have a voice.

What words of advice do you have for other women starting out on their board career?

  • ​ Never doubt that your experience and skills will be valuable to a board – you just need to find the right fit for your passion and purpose.
  • Understand and learn to articulate your ‘why’

  • Be open minded to the opportunities that may present to you along the journey including non paid board roles or advisory committees.  The value you get from meeting and working with a diverse group of people in these settings is invaluable.  

  • Sometimes opportunities will present themselves from pathways that you least expect!

  • Take advantage of the learning and networking opportunities offered by organisations like WOB and other director focussed groups. You don’t know what (or whom) you don’t know!