The Pathway to the Board. Tips from Geelong’s experienced Directors.

Harvest Talent Recruitment was delighted to host an online Geelong HR Roundtable with the topic – “Pathway to the Board” – How to Access Director and Board roles.

Directors from the Geelong region’s boards shared:

Board roles and responsibilities
How they got there – the recruitment process
The commitment required and
What you need to know if you are entertaining Board directorship opportunities.

But first, let’s introduce the Panel.

Pathway to the Board

Justin Giddings

Justin has been the Chief Executive Officer of Avalon Airport since 2008.

Justin is also the Chair of the Gordon TAFE (the 2017 Australian and Victorian Large Training Provider of the Year), the Deputy Chair of the Committee for Geelong Board, and the Independent Chair of both the Youth Justice Centre Community Advisory Group and the Lara Prison expansion project Community Advisory Group.

A graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, holds a Masters of Business Administration, a Bachelor of Commerce, a Gordon TAFE Advanced Diploma of Management Justin is also a qualified Aircraft Maintenance Engineer.

Jan O’Keefe

Non-Executive Director (GenU), Executive Director (My Home Hospital) Senior Executive Homecare (Medibank)

Jan is a non-executive director on the GenU Karingal St Laurence Board, one of Victoria’s largest providers of disability services. She is also an executive director on the board of a joint venture between Medibank and Calvary Health that provides acute grade hospital care in the home in South Australia.

In her executive role, she leads Medibank’s Homecare business, focused on transforming healthcare for all Australians whether they are in the public, private or aged care setting. Prior to this she led ahm, the fastest growing health insurance brand in the Australian market.

After starting her career as a general counsel, the balance of board and executive roles provides a chance to bring together the risk, governance, people and culture aspects in the community services space.

Jan has two young boys, Xavier & Flynn who seem to have unlimited amounts of energy and are already ensuring we are driving them around to all sorts of sports and activities.

Tom Lynch

Chair, Barwon Community Legal Services

Tom is the manager of the corporate and commercial in-house legal team at WorkSafe Victoria and has been a lawyer in Geelong in both the private and public sector for over ten years. He is currently Board Chair of the Barwon Community Legal Service and has held this position since 2020 having been a sitting board member of the legal service since 2017. In addition to this role, he is also a current committee member of the Law Institute of Victoria’s Government Lawyers Executive Committee and a current sitting councillor on the school council board of Torquay P-6 College.

Zoe Waters

Board Director, Volunteering Geelong

For the last sixteen years, Zoe has loved working for not-for-profit, for purpose organisations, all who have a common priority… to improve the health and wellbeing of our community.

Zoe studied social work at university and has spent time working within the mental health sector, child protection and children’s rights, and for the past nine years, in public health. Not to mention her much-loved time at McDonalds as her first job as a fifteen-year-old!

The highlight of Zoe’s career so far has been to meet so many inspiring people through her role at Barwon Health and as CEO of the Barwon Health Foundation. She has had the great privilege, over a number of years, to hear the heartfelt stories of why people choose to donate their time as a volunteer or money as a donor to Barwon Health and to witness the unbelievable generosity of the Greater Geelong region – it is a level of generosity Zoe comments she hasn’t experienced in any other community she has worked in before.

Zoe has been a Board Director at Volunteering Geelong for seven years and was an inaugural member of the Ministerial Advisory Council for Volunteering.

Zoe is proud to have been recognised in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards as a finalist and the winner of the Regional Entrepreneur or Manager of the Year at NAB’s Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.


How did you get onto the Board?

Most participants found roles through their networks.

The size of the organisation does tend to determine the extent of the recruitment process and Not for Profit Boards generally have a more informal approach to recruiting Board members.

Tom Lynch was approached when then there was an opening on a committee for someone with legal skills. Tom credits the Committee for Geelong Leader’s Program as a good springboard in developing confidence and even as a legal practitioner, he felt he needed to learn the skills to confidentially deal with others and to be able to “hold your own in a room of other impressive people.”

Jan O’Keefe gained valuable connections through completing the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) course and her appointment at Gen U came as a result of this.

Just 25 years of age when she received her first board appointment, Zoe Waters says she represented the younger generation. It’s important to remember that you play an important role just as much as the next person does, no matter what your age.

“Everyone has a voice, and everyone comes to the table with different skills and experience,” says Zoe.

Board Chair

“It’s easier to be on a Board than report to a Board,” says Justin Giddings as discussions moved onto the Chair role.

Depending on the size of the board, generally Board members are very strategic, and members do not need to get involved in the day to day running of the organisation.

However, the Chair role tends to get a bit more involved in the organisational day to day. Knowing where projects are at etc.

Tip: have a good Board Secretary that does a lot of the work and keeps you well informed.


What makes a good board director?

A good director has self-awareness of the contribution they are really making to the Board.

Justin Giddings led the discussion suggesting the following as major traits of a “good” Board Director:

  1. The ability to be able to really listen
  2. Listen then learn and understand the issues that really need to be dealt with
  3. Not being afraid to ask questions
  4. Not sweating the small stuff
  5. Monitoring the performance of the CEO and Executive team
  6. Having a trusting relationship with the CEO – but don’t get too involved in the day-to-day operations.

Tip: If you take on the role, “really be there for it”. Get involved and engaged but make sure you are committed. The more you understand, the more you’ll enjoy it.

Being passionate about the cause is number one for Zoe Waters.

Also advocating for organisation outside of the Board room.

This is particularly the case with Not for Profits where it helps to really believe in the cause. Volunteering Geelong believe in ‘consumer representation’ – the Board spends time to learn from a diverse group of volunteers. This way, the board represents the views of the organisation, giving it direction and purpose.

Some people like the sound of their own voice and introduce things without the right intent. Facilitating the space for discussion around the Board table is important says Tom. Being mindful of the quieter directors who are often the most observant and actually have a lot to say. It’s paramount to provide a safe environment so they can have their say.

Jan believes good directorship is all about building relationships. There are some key relationships that just need to happen, such as that with the CEO and Executive. There must be trust there and effort needs to be put in to create this trust.

A good director will be aware of their responsibilities and set the tone from the top.


What’s the ideal number of Board members?

The number of people you have on a Board very much depends on the size of the organisation.

Mark Edmonds, Past President and Geelong Chamber of Commerce Board member gives this advice:

“At one stage Chamber was 17 people. Once you were appointed, you were there for life. It’s important to have terms – fresh blood is good. You need to know when your time is up.”

Mark believes the optimal number is nine Board Members.

Tip: An odd number is always good for voting purposes, if it comes to a vote! Reason being, the Chair is not placed in a position for the casting vote.


Was the AICD course a pre-requisite to join the Board you are on?

The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) course is a complex, exhaustive, and costly course. But is it really needed in order for you to secure a Board position?

With his government roles, Justin has never been asked for it. However, he has completed the course and found it to be interesting and super important.  Above all, it shows commitment.

Tom, who completed the course early this year, believes it’s important to understand the Board role and the fiduciary responsibility that comes with it.  This is “hammered home in the course”.

Zoe Waters is completing the course later this year.

Mark Edmonds states more and more government Boards are asking for the qualification.

At around the $8k mark, it’s costly. However, there are scholarships available, and they are not always advertised so it’s worth getting in touch with the AICD to find out more.

Joining as a member of the AICD also gives you access to a raft of information including templates etc.

All agreed the AICD course is especially good if you do not have any accounting experience or a business background.


How does a Board member confidentially sign of on Financial Statements?

Finding your way around and understanding a Profit & Loss Statement and Cash Flow is super important as a director.

Tip:   Sometimes you need to park your ego. Ask questions no matter how silly they seem.

Start reviewing the Annual Financial Statements at the high level and work your way in – the Board does not need to get bogged down in too much detail – but needs to understand what the figures entail.

It’s handy to have an Accountant on the Board and most Annual Financial Statements will have been externally audited.


How do you bring a mix of people to the Board?

There needs to be a mixed skill set on the Board – not need everyone on the board to be an Accountant or Lawyer!

Directors do not need to be experts in every area either. For example, Lindsey Fox is the Chair of Avalon Board – he does not know much about airports, but he knows a lot about business.

Zoe Waters has spent 16 years in NFP industry. She studied Social Work at University, worked in the mental health sector and was appointed the first ever volunteer for public health.

“At the time, I spent all my money on a brand-new flash Country Road suit – but I felt like a fraud.”

“I soon realised that everyone had a voice and came to the table with a different group of perspectives.”  Everyone is important.

Some Boards have a significant recruitment process.

Often, the diverse mix of people can come via the establishment of sub-committees.

Tip: Implementing committees led by Board Directors then leads to reporting back on the “pulse of the organisation”.  

Kirsten Kilpatrick says the GAC State Government board goes through a Ministerial appointment process. They then have a number of sub committees including, finance and risk and philanthropy.  This forms an important part of what they do and gives control over projects.  The roles of the subcommittees are important as a way of remaining engaged without getting operational.

Operations v Strategic boards. There need to be very clear lines between operational conversations and strategic conversations.


Advisory Boards

Organisations with limited resources at times require Board members to help with their expertise. Others may engage an Advisory Board.

The function of an Advisory Board is to offer assistance to organisations with anything from marketing to managing HR to influencing the direction of regulators.

Comprised of accomplished experts offering innovative advice and dynamic perspectives, they can influence and push agendas.


In summary – Want to get on a Board?

If you want a particular Board role – “be the dog at the door”.

Ensure you have a broad network who can open those doors.

Most people’s Board success in Geelong is due to networks.

“Having a network like we do in Geelong is pretty unique,” says Zoe.

We also encourage you to use LinkedIn Job Search and also Get on Board – Vic Gov


Good luck!

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