AICD program facilitator Chris Bennett MAICD discusses the complexities of international governance and how International Foundations of Directorship can provide clarity on complexity through shared experiences and perspectives.
When talking about “doing business with Asia”, Australian business people can sometimes view the “region” as a homogeneous entity – a place where the same rules, customs and challenges appear across the board.
In reality it couldn’t be further from the truth. Asia is the world’s largest and most populous continent, accounting for approximately 60 percent of the world’s population. It is home to developing economies and to strong world economic powers; to new and long-standing democracies, as well as one-party states. Asia is diverse and can be overwhelming in its complexity.
For Chris Bennett, an AICD program facilitator currently based in Malaysia, there is a unique sort of perspective and clarity that comes with understanding the cause and effect of complexities – particularly in business.
“In Asia, we have cultural and regulatory complexities that manifest themselves in the boardroom all the time,” Bennett says.
“I have spent more than 20 years living and working in Asia and have come to understand that different ways of looking at the world can impact governance and high-level decision-making.”
Laying global foundations
In 2014 the AICD launched its International Foundations of Directorship program in Southeast Asia. It draws on three pillars of governance best practice: director duties and responsibilities; strategy and risk; and financial performance.
The program differs from the domestic-focused Foundations of Directorship by targeting new and aspiring directors and those who report to the boards of the ever increasing number of organisations with cross-border interests. It lays the foundations of corporate governance in the international sphere and emphasises how to work with diversity – not against it.
“In Asia, we have cultural and regulatory complexities that manifest themselves in the boardroom all the time.
“In International Foundations of Directorship we use universally understood and accepted principles like the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance which are largely embodied in local country corporate governance, and to some extent local company law, and then tease out key cultural and regulatory points of difference. The rules may be by and large the same, but the issues that challenge directors revolve around how effectively governance frameworks are enforced.” Bennett explains.
Value of shared experiences
The international flavour of the program is amplified by the diverse profile of participants who choose to take part.
“On one hand we get Australians who are working overseas on the program. More often than not they are relatively early on in their careers and have been transferred overseas by their company. They may be experiencing their first taste of directorship and true cultural complexity on the subsidiary boards of these companies,” says Bennett.
“And increasingly on the other hand, we have a lot of locals looking to complete the program. They come from many Asian countries: Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam to name but a few. Their interest in the program can be stimulated because they find themselves working for an Australian company. They want to understand the Australian approach to governance and the way Australian culture impacts board decision making. Or, the company they work for in Asia may be looking to do business with or own a company in Australia. It’s certainly an interesting perspective.”
“Self-reflection and exposure to other perspectives gives participants a deeper understanding of the issues they face on boards.
Chris Bennett is just one of the AICD’s expert governance facilitators in the region. To each program he brings a wealth of experience gained in line management and director roles and, most recently, consulting on boardroom dynamics across the globe. His career has spanned four continents. Currently he works with BPA Australasia and is a doctoral researcher at Aston Business School, looking at the impact of diversity on directors’ decision-making in multicultural environments.
“What I hear most from participants is that they value the fact that I am not just talking about governance challenges and cultural complexities – I have lived them. I can also offer a distinctive perspective in that here, in Southeast Asia, I am, in fact, a member of the minority community. All too often when people speak about dealing with diversity, they do so from a position within the majority,” he adds.
International Foundations of Directorship facilitates an exchange of information, perspectives and ideas. Most importantly, it asks everyone in the room to be open and self-aware.
“I don’t think I have ever facilitated a program where I didn’t come away without having learned something from the participants,” says Bennett.
“As a facilitator I share my own experiences, but am simultaneously trying to encourage others to share theirs. Self-reflection and exposure to other perspectives gives participants a deeper understanding of the issues they face on boards.”
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