The Fiji Directors Course gathered together some of the Pacific nation’s best and brightest business leaders in resort town Denarau for intensive governance training.
For many tourists visiting Fiji, Denarau Island is a stopping point before they journey on to the pristine islands of the Mamanuca and Yasawa archipelagos. For the 27 directors, executives and business owners who undertook the Australian Institute of Company Directors' Fiji Directors Course in Denarau in July it was also an important stopping point in their governance leadership careers.
The three-day course, which is run in Fiji twice a year, once in capital Suva and once in Denarau, just outside of Nadi, is designed as a comprehensive grounding on governance, strategy, risk and finance as they relate to Fijian law. Many of the best and brightest of Fiji's business community gathered for the July 2017 course, held at the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa, with participants from a range of sectors, including tourism, banking, media and government.
Course facilitator David Evans FAICD, who was head of Westpac in Fiji for five years in the 2000s, is passionate about how governance training can help organisations in Fiji. "At the end of the day, the directors are there to add to the value to the shareholders or members of the organisation," Evans said. "The course gives Fijian directors a framework around good governance. It allows them to carry out their duties. By practicing good governance, they then add to the value of their organisation."
It is a sentiment echoed by Eroni Puamau MAICD, General Manager of leading Fijian tour company Rosie Holidays who is also on the board of trustees of housing not-for-profit Model Towns Charitable Trust.
"The course has been a real eye-opener in terms of the concepts that have been brought up," Puamau said. "It's important for us as directors and officers to learn the things we need to be cognisant of so that we don't fall short of the expectations of our owners and stakeholders."
The course is also playing an important role in lifting general governance in Fiji, according to Puamau.
"The course is something that I would definitely recommend to all the executives in Fiji. It's important for the future of Fiji's overall governance across the corporate, public and private sectors, in terms of how we rise as a country, that directors and executives as custodians act responsibly to deliver on expectations," Puamau said.
Even the most experienced of Fiji's directors can benefit from governance training, according to course participant Adrian Sofield MAICD, appointed chairman of one of Fiji's largest companies, Fijian Holdings, earlier this year.
"I've been learning so much, you wouldn't believe it, even though I've had years as chairman of number of boards" Sofield said. "I've been a little bit streetwise through it all but I've never had any formal training."
Sofield, one of Fiji's foremost architects for several decades, found the financial modules of the course particularly helpful. "As an architect, we were never ever taught financial management," Sofield said. "I've learned a lot about the financial oversight side of being a director, the detail of it that you need to go into. This is particularly applicable now I'm chair of Fijian Holdings which has nine subsidiary companies and shares in another 20, the income streams are quite varied, whereas with my own private practice, I had one income stream and that was me."
Other course participants emphasised how the course has encouraged them as organisational leaders and directors to be bold in asking questions.
"For me in my role being appointed newly to a board, there were some areas that were grey zones," said Kalpana Lal MAICD, head of finance and administration at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit and recently appointed to the board of quarrying and concrete company Basic Industries. "I had to think whether I should really ask those questions or not and if I would be overstepping my territory. By coming to this course, it has given me a very clear picture of what I should ask as a board director, to what extent I should go into details, and go on to be a bolder board member."
With so many of Fiji's business leaders coming together in one room for the course, learning from the experiences of other participants was a particular highlight for Romil Patel MAICD, founder and CEO of Jewels Fiji and chair of the Fiji Commerce Commission. "Interacting with other participants has been fantastic. I've basically been able to learn from their experiences," Patel said.
And the implementation of the lessons of the course had begun even before participants got together for farewell drinks as the sun set over the palms fringing the island beach.
"I can say I've already taken things away in a practical nature," said Litiana Loabuka, CEO of Fiji Sports and a non-executive director of supermarket chain RB Patel. "I've actually already contacted our board secretary. I've explained the different things I would like to see and he's replied he'll make sure we have them ticked off."
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