'The most important role of the board is to select the CEO'
"One of the hardest things in moving from an executive career to a non-executive career is learning to sit on your hands".
What boards or committees are you currently on and why?
I am currently on Clover Corporation an ASX listed business, Prolife Foods (NZ) Ltd a Private Company based in New Zealand with businesses in New Zealand, Australia, and Asia. Then finally I am on the Board of Aurora Dairies which is part of an Unlisted Trust within Warakirri Asset Management.
I have been living offshore for 12 years and I found that many of the search firms valued my Operational experience as a CEO and my international experience, but they wanted me to have ASX specific experience. So Clover as my first board allowed me to “tick that box” and it is now opening many more doors for me. The Aurora Dairies one I joined because they are the largest Corporate Dairy player in the Australian market and Prolife Foods played to my sweet spot of Consumer Packaged Goods and Supply Chain.
What other boards have you been on?
I have been on several boards across ANZ and Asia as an Executive Director. Additionally, I was on the Malaysian French Chamber of Commerce and New Zealand Grass Fed Ltd Boards.
What are the areas of expertise you feel you bring to your boards?
I have been Chief Executive reporting to a Board, so I bring the operational expertise and understanding of running complex businesses. I have extensive manufacturing and operational experience across Australia, Asia, and New Zealand. I have built factories and managed supply chains in multiple geographies and led large consumer-based businesses with revenues of $2 billion and employing 1,000’s.
I had 11 years at French multinational Danone, as Managing Director in Australia and New Zealand, and then in Malaysia and Indonesia where I led innovation and digital strategies that were adopted by Danone in other countries. One of the benefits of working for a large multinational is that I have been exposed to some of the best practice models in OH&S and Remuneration. In terms of the latter this means I can chair Rem and I do this in my Prolife Board.
Having been involved in developing, acquiring, and divesting businesses means I can also contribute successfully to a strategic plan for a business whether they have a growth agenda through internal innovation or through acquisition.
When and why did you decide to pursue boards?
I knew that I would want to keep working but not necessarily at an Executive level, so many years ago I started to prepare myself for this second career. First by ensuring that I had all the relevant skills, then by completing all the relevant educational components like AICD Company Director Course, WOBSX, AICD Chair Mentoring and EY Emerging Director Course.
Secondly, I ensured that financially I was secure. I did not want to be forced to choose a Board role based on the remuneration offered, rather have the financial freedom to choose what I really wanted to do.
Having been a successful C suite executive I knew that I had a lot to offer other companies, but I wanted the variety and challenge that a portfolio career can offer.
What challenges and hurdles have you had to overcome in pursuing boards and/or serving on boards?
One of the hardest things in moving from an Executive career to a Non-Executive career is learning to sit on your hands. I was so used to getting things done in my Executive life by delegating or requesting. As a Board member you are not the implementer, and the CEO will do things differently from the way you used to do them. The most important role of the Board is to select the CEO; once you have done that it is then how to support your CEO. How to influence management and ensure they are delivering to the agreed strategy and business objectives.
I also found it quite challenging in the early days to get on Boards, especially since I had been away from Australia for 12 years. I had to rebuild my network and ensure that I was visible for the right roles. I have found now I get a lot more calls about Board roles and I can be more selective about those that I will put my hand up for.
What do you most like about your board roles?
I particularly like the mix of my Board roles. Having ASX, Private and Unlisted is a great mix as they all look for different levels of contribution. Some are heavier on compliance; some are more interested in my strategic guidance, and some are leaning heavily on my operational knowledge.
The variety and the opportunity to work with some fabulous directors is also a huge plus.
Have you had mentors and/or sponsors and have they helped you? If so, how?
Yes, I have had sponsors, mentors coaches and advocates all through my Executive Career and I see this just as essential in my NED career. I was lucky enough to be part of the AICD Chair mentoring program and I have a wonderful mentor who has given me some great advice as I pursue this next step.
How has WOB helped you on your board journey?
WOB has been particularly useful in helping me reconnect with key people in the Australian market. I also took part in the WOBSX program which was excellent. That was essential is ensuring I had key elevator pitch right, that I had my CV in the right shape and basically how to go about securing board roles. The safe space that WOBSX offered with a collegiate group of women was incredibly valuable; within this safe space you can talk about your goals and insecurities, you can role play and plan for how you want to build your portfolio.
What, do you think, are the most useful skills you have gained which have helped in your Board career?
The WOBSX program set me up at the start with the right elevator pitch, shaping my CV and building my network, I don’t think it helped build my skills. It did show me how and when to communicate my skills that I had developed as an executive and which skills would be more relevant for my NED career.
Any words of advice for other women starting out in their board journey.
Be prepared for this to take time. It needs patience and recognition that this is entirely different to how you managed your Executive career. The process can be opaque and incredibly frustrating. You will never be able to stop networking in this career, just because you are on one board does not automatically mean you will join many more. Keeping your name and relevant experience front of mind for Chairs, Directors and Recruiters takes a commitment to continuous networking.
Finally, if you can get yourself into a financially secure position before you start the Ned journey this is preferred, then you will not be forced to take the first board role that comes along. Remember that you will be with your “board team” for at least 3 and most likely 6-10 years; you want to really enjoy working with them and the organisation.