Advice to my younger NED self

Advice to my younger NED self

Liz Savage pictured centre

It was a big decision for Liz Savage to step out of her executive career in the airline business and into life as a Non-Executive Director. The former Chief Commercial Officer of Virgin Australia has capitalised on her experience in disruptive customer-intensive businesses to build an exciting & varied portfolio of Board roles. Liz’s NED roles to date include at Auckland Airport, Intrepid Travel, Brisbane Marketing, Mantra Hotels and Triathlon Australia.

Speaking at the March 2020 Women on Boards Director lunch at Clayton Utz in Brisbane, Liz provided some sage advice on how to build a board career and what to consider once you are in the space:

1. Know your unique contribution
Liz cut her teeth in the highly competitive airline business, in commercial roles at challenger brands: building airline easyJet during its first ten years and transforming Virgin Blue to Virgin Australia. “These are purpose-driven, dynamic businesses on a mission to change their industry: I seek out similar game changer opportunities in my Board work”. 

2. Be clear about why you want to be a company director
Liz advises “Ensure the roles you choose meet your motivations. For me, it’s the opportunity to influence industry via multiple companies and the continual learning that comes from working alongside diverse experienced peers”. Ask yourself, “Are you ready to become a servant hearted leader?”

3. Be realistic about the time commitments of NED work
A full portfolio of board roles takes an equivalent amount of time to a full time job. “Formal Board meetings are just the start. Add Committee responsibilities, mentoring the CEO and exec team, meeting with stakeholders. And that’s in times of BAU…I also allocate time to keeping myself well read & right up to date with what’s happening in broader industry”

4. Leave time & capacity for the unexpected
Board members need to be available to support whatever the business needs at any given time: overseeing business plans to manage the current coronavirus outbreak being a good example. “Directors seeking to build a portfolio of roles need to be realistic about peak demands when deciding how many roles to take on”

5. Know your values & ensure they are aligned with Board culture
Liz acknowledges “This can be hard to assess for a prospective role, yet in my opinion, vital. When facing a challenging decision, I want to be part of a team that has diverse perspectives, but similar core values. If I’m not confident there’s alignment, I don’t take the role, no matter how great it might look!”
Liz also gave some practical tips for those undertaking due diligence on a role:
  •  Take your time, be thorough - it’s an important decision for the long-term
  • Ask to meet the company auditor and as many other Directors as possible, in addition to the Chair and CEO
  • Ask Board members what they have spent most time on during past 6 months & what they have found it hardest to find consensus on. 
She also busted a few myths – one of which was that the role of a Director is clearly defined. “The role is in some ways endless and is becoming more complex, with Boards taking a more active lead on issues of culture, inclusion, social impact and environment.
I’m motivated by making business sustainable: doing good for customers, team members, communities, investors and the planet. We need to stop thinking of these as trade offs and design our businesses with the conviction that they are truly compatible”.