Chairman of Coca Cola Amatil, Bell Shakespeare and Jawun, Ilana Atlas MAICD, discusses the strategy behind recruiting a CEO that fits and her journey to becoming a Chairman.
1. What advice would you offer Chairs recruiting and commencing a relationship with a new CEO?
One of the key issues with recruiting a CEO is to carefully analyse, not necessarily what the organisation is today, but what the organisation will be. You need to work through the attributes of a CEO that align with the type of organisation you want to become. Where is the organisation heading strategically, from a people perspective, from a values perspective and from a cultural perspective.
When commencing a relationship with a new CEO the key priority is to develop a relationship of trust. Open and constructive communication is very important, including deliberate discussion about what the relationship looks like, both substantively and in a process sense.
2. What challenges or opportunities have you faced as a top ASX company with both a female Chair and Managing Director?
I don’t think I would say the challenges or the opportunities we face are gender specific. I don’t think the challenges are any different in our situation to others.
We are both conscious of the fact that there are very few ASX listed companies with both a female chair and a female CEO and we are proud to be part of an organisation which has supported us into these roles. We hope this situation will become much more usual.
3. You are a Chair of a number of organisations (Coca Cola Amatil and Jawun). Looking back at your career, what was integral in your progression from board member to Chair?
I think they are quite different roles. Probably the most important area of focus for a Chairman is the relationship with the CEO. I think a constructive relationship between board Chair and CEO adds value to the organisation. It’s very important to get that right.
Another important focus is the development of a good relationship with other board members so you can create a collegiate and effective team.
As a result, a Chairman needs to have well developed relationship and leadership skills that can adapt to different contexts.
4. What attracted you to the organisations you are a director of?
Coca Cola Amatil (CCA) interested me because I have always been very interested in organisations that deal directly with customers. CCA deals in things that are very tangible, unlike my executive career which was in professional services, then financial services. And then as I got to know the organisation better, I was very attracted by the organisation itself. It’s full of very passionate, creative, energetic people working across Australia, NZ, Indonesia and the Pacific.
I’ve also been involved with NFPs for a very long period of time. In NFP organisations, you really have to roll up your sleeves and be part of the organisation. They’re always resource-scarce and they really need people who are prepared to get in there and assist them.
5. How do you feel board succession planning has evolved in recent years and what do you think still needs to change?
I think there’s been quite a significant evolution in board succession planning. It’s become more objective and rigorous, and that’s a good thing. However, I think appointment of directors is as much art as it is science. So the rigour and objectivity is very important, but I also think there is a lot of judgement involved. For boards to work there really needs to be cohesion - fit is extremely important. Those types of judgements are important to bring to the decision making as well. I think it’s important to get the balance right.
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