Notes from the Future Directors’ Programme - Directors of the Future

31 Oct 2016

Published: boardroom

Rachel Hopkins was placed with the AWF Madison Group board this year and here she shares her experience with boardroom.

Finding Future Directors

Directors need to make the right contribution in the right context. I’ve now seen first-hand that unique skill sets and communication styles are needed to create a board “team” that can drive performance from all angles.

Unless you have a deep pool of talent, it’s difficult to choose the right governance team to help a business thrive. That’s the beauty of this programme. The headhunting approach (complemented by a thorough database search process)unearths executives with all sorts of skills, backgrounds and perspectives. People your usual networks don’t already know about. The AWF Madison Group Chairman, Ross Keenan, said the short list of people put in front of them for my appointment was wide ranging, and he was impressed there was no one on it he had heard of before.

It sounds risky, especially when New Zealanders think everyone knows everyone; but it’s very powerful. The programme is a great “road test” for both parties, combining professional development and fresh thinking with real life results.

The professional development is hugely valuable

I didn’t know that there was a difference between an “executive CV” and a “governance CV” when I put my application in. You do need both. But you don’t need the “traditional director CV” to do this programme. I am not a chartered accountant and even though I have a law degree, I’m not a lawyer. My background is in marketing professional services and education. I am the General Manager of Marketing and Communications at industry training organisation (ITO) Competenz. I’ve been to Stanford to learn Design Thinking, worked at The ICEHOUSE and led a collaboration of ITOs to promote trades careers to school students.

The recruitment and selection process for the Future Directors programme is rigorous. I was lucky to be introduced to Bindi Norwell (Future Director at The Warehouse Group 2014-15) and to get some excellent advice and insight early on. As things progressed, I became more excited to be able to observe the diverse board of New Zealand success story AWF Madison Group. Simon Hull started AWF in a garage in Penrose, Wynnis Armour and Marisa Fong grew Madison in Queen Street and AWF Madison Group is now the country’s largest labour hire and recruitment company, listed on the NZX.

I am extraordinarily lucky to have been given this opportunity and I’ve been learning every minute. Ross, Simon and Wynnis, with fellow directors Ted van Arkel and Julia Hoare, have all been very generous with their time and expertise. I have participated fully in all board and committee meetings. I have observed a successful CEO transition as well as the board processes around the new health and safety legislation.

When I was introduced to the AWF Madison Group board for the first time, everyone was very welcoming. But I learned two things that day. Firstly, there’s an etiquette to where you sit – do not sit in the founder’s chair! Secondly, being told to “just come and say hello to everyone” means “prepare an introductory address”! I think being over-prepared and looking to the chair for guidance is the best approach in the early days.

What I’ve learned about the year-end accounts and the AGM process

When you sign your name to market information, the rigour and responsibility of being a director becomes crystal clear. I saw this as I observed the sign off of year end accounts, communications to the NZX and speeches for the AGM. Every director needs high level financial acumen and a skilled chair needs to weave each director’s perspective and comments together to arrive at an accurate and clear snapshot for all stakeholders.

There’s science in the page turning process and line by line review of the accounts. There’s art in the managing of discussion and debate. As a Future Director observer, you are in a privileged position to see this science and art coming together. I tried to step back and see the elements of a successful outcome.

Here are four things I learnt:

1. You need to be comfortable moving from the detail to the big picture,

2. An open and trusting relationship with your auditors is critical,

3. Take your time, near enough is never good enough,

4. Brand experience extends to the board and the AGM.

I noticed the subtleties that set the tone at AWF Madison Group's AGM: a venue chosen that reflects the brand values and growth of the company; a welcoming chair acknowledging key shareholders and introducing all employees; and a CEO who develops their own presentation and doesn’t sound like they are reading. This encouraged lots and lots of questions which is great market research.

Did I mention the food? It’s important. I’m told from a reliable source that there’s a reason so many shareholders come to the Restaurant Brands AGM!

Thank you for the opportunity

AWF Madison Group’s Simon Hull says that Future Directors is a “fantastic opportunity to bridge the generation gap in governance.” I think the programme will mean more directors of the future from wider networks. It will provide the platform for different voices and perspectives to contribute to the future of New Zealand companies. That has to be a good thing and I am honoured to be part of it.