The AICD’s flagship Chair’s Mentoring Program is heading into its eighth iteration in 2024. 

    Lifelong learning is seen as key to director development and boards are acknowledging more and more that broader diversity in the boardroom brings better decision-making. Mentors and mentees from the AICD Chair’s Mentoring Program were keen to discuss their experiences and share how two-way learning and understanding your value make for better outcomes for directors.

    The mentors

    Robin Low FAICD has an extensive board career of more than 20 years, including listed companies, government and not-for-profits. Low was initially a mentee in the program and has now become one of its mentors. “I get a great deal from the program as a mentor,” says Low. “Certainly, I appreciated the program when I was in it, but being a mentor makes you step back and consider some of the things you’ve learned.”

    The emerging directors she has met have educated her about how other people might be tackling their roles as a director.

    “Diversity has so many more dimensions,” says Low. “We’re seeing really talented women coming onto boards now. However, there has been a change and the change is accelerating. The conversation used to be about how many women you should have on a board. Do you have one or do you have two? That conversation seems to have stopped and it’s more broadly about what is the diversity on the board.”

    Duncan West GAICD is chair of Challenger Group Ltd and sits on a number of other boards. He says being a mentor for the AICD Chair’s Mentoring Program turned out to be “a really interesting experience”. “I’ve learned an enormous amount by being a mentor,” says West. “I’ve learned a bit about myself, about what I’m like, what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at. But it’s a two-way street. Meeting with somebody regularly who you [otherwise] wouldn’t naturally meet creates an enforced curiosity.”

    West has seen the approach of boards change in the past 30 years. “People have begun to realise that diversity in its widest sense is actually a really important and good thing for organisations,” he says. “When I first started in financial services, there were very few women at senior levels, if any. Diversity wasn’t even on the agenda 30 years ago. Now, it’s a very deliberate strategy of boards to have a really diverse board — diverse in gender, diverse culturally, diverse in ways of thinking — and everybody’s got the point that a board will be better if it’s more diverse.”

    West is hopeful that in the next few years, “we’ll move to where having a diverse group of people working collectively together is just natural, rather than something we need to force”.

    The mentees

    Marianne Perkovic GAICD is on the boards of Insignia Superannuation Trustees, RAM Essential Services Property Fund and the Australian Fashion Council. A graduate of the 2022 Chair’s Mentoring Program, she was mentored by Duncan West.

    Marianne Perkovic GAICD, Mentee 202202:15

    “I was a bit nervous meeting Duncan... but right from the beginning, he created a fantastic environment,” she says. “He created a culture of mutual respect. It was very clear that his investment in the program was as much about learning from me as it was him sharing his knowledge. That made it really easy from the beginning.”

    Perkovic says her key takeaway was actually understanding her value proposition.

    “I started the mentoring process with a long list of skills and experience I achieved over my executive life and the program helped me articulate those value propositions to be more relevant to the next phase of my career, which was building out my board portfolio.”

    She notes the experience helped define what boards might be of interest and how those boards “align to my value proposition and my values”.

    “It also helped me better understand the skills I had and how transferable they were in industries in which I actually didn’t have experience as an executive,” she says.

    Perkovic found the networking opportunities supportive and encouraging. One piece of advice she received that resonated was, to have patience and take your time. “I’m a naturally impatient person, but learning about myself through this process, and through the support of Duncan, really helped me think about my portfolio longer-term,” she says. “Once I had that vision, I could then work backwards and think about the skills I wanted to acquire, the competencies I wanted to build and how I could then build out my board portfolio.”

    Patricia Montague GAICD, Mentee 202201:23

    Patricia Montague GAICD is a director with considerable experience in the financial sector. She is currently board chair of Total Risk Management Pty Ltd (TRM), the trustee for Russell Investments Australia’s superannuation funds. Montague was mentored by Robin Low.

    “The work Robin and I did talking about my skills and capabilities was really valuable,” says Montague. “I really don’t have a typical background for a board, but I have a very diverse executive and advisory career experience. It was great to work with Robin on developing my value proposition and thinking how I could evidence that value.”

    Learning about the board recruitment process was fundamental to Montague’s approach to restructuring her resume. She notes that this process “changed how I talked about myself”.

    “It gave me more confidence,” she says, adding that the mentor network is a supportive group that celebrates successes and provides opportunities. It also refers opportunities to other members if something doesn’t fit one person’s skill set.

    The connection with the mentors and the mentees has been of enormous value, she says, opening doors, creating learning opportunities and offering practical advice and tips.

    “It’s very important to understand that governance is a career. Therefore, learning and professional development is very much part of it. The program is a great place to understand your skills, your gaps, to learn from others and develop your program as a director.”

    Low hopes the mentor-mentee relationship is mutually beneficial. “Having been in both roles, that’s been my experience of it,” she says.

    AICD’s Chair’s Mentoring Program is proudly sponsored by Allens and Corrs Chambers Westgarth. Find out more here

    This article first appeared under the headline 'Matchmaking’ in the July 2024 issue of Company Director magazine.

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