320 people signed up in Future Directors database

05 Feb 2015

Published: NBR

The Future Directors scheme is nearing two years’ old, with nine companies currently signed up to mentor a young, ambitious business leader.

The scheme was set up in March 2013 by Sir Stephen Tindall, Michael Stiassny of the Institute of Directors and Des Hunt of the NZ Shareholders Association, to help widen New Zealand’s director pool.

Mr Hunt says the programme aims to let young people observe and participate on a company board for a year (without voting rights) while exposing the company to the benefits a fresh mind can bring, such as new perspectives on social media, technology changes, sustainability and diversity.

“In the past it has been said we lack talented people to become directors but from the interest we had received so far this is not the case. What has surprised us is the number of people who are very experienced and have run successful operations.”

The nine companies signed up to mentor can choose from 320 people who have signed up to the Future Director database. The candidates will most likely be around 35-50 and stand out as having achieved something significant in business.

Eight people have completed or are on the programme currently. One of the first to complete the programme was Counties Power chief executive Sheridan Broadbent, who was Auckland International Airport’s first future director under the stewardship of Joan Withers, then Sir Henry van der Heyden.

“For 12 months you participate as if you are a board member – you participate in the conversation, get involved in the debate, and must be as well versed in the dynamics of the company as any other member, so it was a real education,” Ms Broadbent says.

Ms Broadbent, who has years of executive experience including with Genesis Energy, thinks this programme fast-tracked her route to directorship – she now sits on the Kordia board.

“When you come from a very hands-on operational environment as I have, it is very tempting to engage at the operational level because that’s where you feel you can add the most value, which is untrue. The lesson for me was to look at the big picture and take a driver-based view, rather than diving into the weeds and seeds of the detail, that’s what management is there for.”

While Ms Broadbent has no short-term plans to leave her executive position, she ultimately plans to become a fulltime director, and thinks the business community should get behind the people who set up and help run the scheme.

“It’s been a lot of work for these people to get it off the ground and they’ve done it for no greater reason than for the good of NZ Inc. The more senior chairs and boards that can get behind them, the better it will be for governance in New Zealand.”

As a shareholder representative, Mr Hunt says one of his great concerns is lack of diversity on boards but initiatives like this can help change attitudes.

“Future Directors is about both diversity and encouraging the next generation of directors. For many organisations this is about access to different skill sets and mind sets. For some organisations this may be about age or gender while for some, this may be about ethnicities. Effectively a board will define their criteria based on what they want to bring to the board to balance the existing composition.”

Along with Auckland Airport, companies involved in the scheme are The Warehouse, Vector, Northpower, Dunedin Airport, Canterbury Scientific, NZ Plumbing Merchants, F&P Healthcare and AWF Group.

Sheridan Broadbent’s advice to future directors:
1. It’s not something you do for money, so you have to be in a position financially where it’s not your only source of income.

2. Maintain your executive career until you’re absolutely certain you want to make the change. It’s not something you can dabble in – I’ve got one directorship and that’s plenty thanks.

3. Induct yourself really well with the business and the board. Before you go on the board, do your research and understand what the business’s key challenges will be.

4. Think about how your skills and experience will lend to the whole board and what dynamic you are going to bring to board conversations. Identify your role and how you’re going to make things better.

5. Make sure you’re not a passenger. People are expecting you to help deliver a fantastic result and govern a business as well as you can.