Indigenous business leaders gain new boardroom skills

Wednesday, 10 July 2019


    Indigenous leaders often say they work not just for their own businesses but to better their whole communities. That’s why Indigenous governance is a powerful and important force. In May this year, an exclusive AICD Company Director Course (CDC) for Indigenous business leaders took place in Perth. Julie-Ann Lambourne was one of 17 scholarship recipients who took part and spoke to Boardroom Report.

    Indigenous Business Leaders CDC W.A.5:42

    Julie-Ann Lambourne grew up poor, dropped out of high school and suffered from addiction from age 17 - but you wouldn’t guess it if you were to meet her. Now sitting on nine committees, boards and groups, she is the CEO of the expanding enVizion Group, a 100% Indigenous owned national training provider based in Cairns in Queensland.

    She is also one of just 17 people to receive a scholarship to the Indigenous business leader’s Company Director Course. “enVizion Group’s future aspirations include designing and developing the first Indigenous-led global innovation centre…” she said. “A project of this size requires high level governance and structure. Successfully completing this training will facilitate this.”

    She also said many of the boards on which she sits are interstate and national, so her aim was to make sure she had a director’s mindset and a helicopter view for these roles.

    “How do I make sure that I have a director's mindset? Because I'm not there for me just as a person. I'm not there (just) for my business, I'm there for a bigger output I guess… “

    Enabling Indigenous people

    She first completed the AICD’s Foundations of Directorship course. “Doing that really opened my eyes to the world of corporate governance and it actually gave me a hunger to actually impart that knowledge to other people.” Years later she became interested in the CDC and decided she was ready for the next stage of governance.”

    Another course participant, Murray Saylor, founder and managing director of Tagai Management Consultants, said he grew interested in gaining new boardroom skills because of the growth of his business. “This is a really great experience for me because I am a growing small business,” he told Boardroom Report.

    “My journey as an entrepeneur is as an enabler of my own people and anyone who comes into contact with us.”

    Perpetual hosted the face-to-face part of the course in their Perth offices overlooking the Swan River, with the Indian Ocean sparkling in the West Australian sun. After an Acknowledgment of Country from Perpetual’s Glen Mesch (State Manager WA/SA) and a Welcome to Country, the doors were closed, and the work began.

    The participants were from a range of fields, including ASX100 organisations, private businesses, the public sector, NFPs, SMEs and Native Title.

    Lambourne said the breadth of experience and diversity was an unforeseen highlight of the course. “Being in the room with so many other indigenous leaders… there’s two things - I’m learning and gleaning, but I’m also imparting.”

    Julie-Ann Lambourne spoke to Boardroom Report on day one of the course to explain some of these lessons and how they impacted her director journey.

    When she took on the role of CEO of enVizion Group (having previously held the position of General Manager) the organisation faced several challenges. While the founders were experienced in their fields, they had little experience running a business. “We had no business foundation skills so we just had really good intent. We had really good knowledge, we had really good expertise, but running a business is different.”

    When a partner left enVizion Group with little notice and with projects on the go, staff had to be laid off and executives had to “get back on the tools”. “We'd had programs set up for the next nine months. And one of our partners decided to pull out the last minute and we had no succession plan.”

    Lambourne said that before she was elevated to CEO, enVizion Group struggled with their revenue model. She realised that they needed to change their thinking. “People think because you are Not-for-Profit, you’re a charity and you'll do lots of stuff for free,” she said.

    “And we thought ‘We can't charge that, let's do it for free’... Well actually we need to run like a business, not like a charity."

    These were experiences Lambourne used as an opportunity to learn, and which she now uses to teach. Lambourne also said an integral part of her transition from General Manager to CEO was taking on a personal corporate mentor. "That was really difficult for someone like me, an Indigenous person, being mentored by a non-Indigenous corporate person because they talk about value proposition, not just for the business but for yourself. What is my worth in the business? What is my dollar value?

    “Because I grew up very impoverished with every type of issue you could think of and I had a really hard lifestyle myself before I overcame all of those things… having to talk about my own value proposition was really difficult. “But I had to push through that because I knew what we were doing in the business was really important.”

    Discussing the current focus on organisational culture in the wake of the Hayne Royal Commission, and the declining public trust in institutions, Lambourne said she applies the cultural values instilled in her as a Torres-Strait Islander woman to the organisations she works with.

    “It’s a community mindset,” she said. "You know I can only speak for myself, but I'm always thinking about how what I do is going to be for the betterment of the community… and how do we amalgamate that into business.”

    Scholarships to the Indigenous business leaders’ Company Directors Course were funded by The Norman H Johns Trust and E B Myer Charity Fund, which is managed by Perpetual Limited.

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