Telstras top women ponder their success AICD Review

Thursday, 01 April 2004

Ann-Maree Moodie photo
Ann-Maree Moodie
Corporate Governance Adviser, Author and Management Lecturer

    Last year was a milestone for four Australian women, each acknowledged for their business achievements with major national awards, as well as by their success as graduates of the AICD's Company Directors Course.

    Telstra's top women ponder their success

    Last year was a milestone for four Australian women, each acknowledged for their business achievements with major national awards, as well as by their success as graduates of the AICD's Company Directors Course.

    All four say the combination of winning titles in the 2003 Telstra Business Women's Awards, and completing the CDC, has given them unprecedented confidence that has enhanced their professional and business lives.

    Although they have much in common, Elizabeth Clare, Chris Cameron, Annette Williams and Marie Persson come from diverse business backgrounds, representing the public, private and non-for-profit sectors. Each nominated a different skill - law, finance, strategy and human resources - gained from the course which they now actively employ in their workplaces.

    "I was already on two boards and felt that if I was to be of any value as a board member I should become more knowledgeable about corporate governance," says Elizabeth Clare, the executive manager for corporate development of not-for-profit Masonic Homes, which provides aged care accommodation for the elderly in South Australia and the Northern Territory. "I share the role with people who I feel don't understand the true role of a board director."

    Clare, who is a state winner and a national finalist in the Telstra TMP/Hudson Community and Government Award, says she has implemented the philosophy of good corporate governance on her boards.

    "As a chair of one board I've been able to educate some of the board members about the need for more strategic planning at board level and the need for them to become less involved in management issues."

    There has also been a shift in attitude to recruiting new board members. "When we're recruiting new directors, we now try to get candidates with the right skills," she says. "So many boards in the not-for-profit sector are bringing in people with vested interests and who therefore aren't objective."

    Chris Cameron, who is the 2003 Westpac Group Business Owner, became more astute and inquisitive about how she manages her $17 million architectural coatings manufacturing business, Rockcote Enterprises. " We haven't changed the way we conduct our financial reporting, but completing the CDC has given me the knowledge to understand our financial position much better because its altered the way we calculate return on investment," says Cameron, who manages the business with her husband, Bob, another CDC graduate. "Even though we are a very profitable company, when our net profit drops below a certain level, we put ourselves in a crisis mode and we have a crisis before we need to have a crisis."

    As the founder and sole director of NSW-based injury and safety management company, AW Workwise, Annette Williams was particularly interested in the contract law and risk management modules of the CDC. "I took away from the course enough information to know when I needed help," says Williams, who is the state winner and national finalist in the Westpac Group Business Owner Award. "Our contracts are always reviewed by our solicitor, but I know enough about contract law now to direct our solicitor on the issues and contexts he needs to concentrate on."

    Marie Persson, the director of The Sydney Institute TAFE NSW, says she gained much from the principles of the case study material in the course to the strategy of her own organisation, which delivers vocational education and training to 88,000 students. "I enrolled because I needed to understand a whole range of governance, strategic and regulatory issues," says Persson, the national winner of the TMP/Hudson Community and Government Award.

    "I thought it was a fantastic course, but I have to admit a huge mistake - I didn't read the folder of materials before the course started. I was completing the residential mode in Canberra and I was getting up at 4am to study so I could be ahead for the day. It reminded me of my student days."

    Although their experiences of the CDC were different, all four women say they learned not only what they needed to know as directors, but also where their knowledge was lacking.

    Annette Williams summed up the sentiment of her colleagues: "The CDC doesn't just give you peace of mind, it gives you a level of confidence, control and security to move forward. There's enough risk in business without acknowledging the obvious risk of not identifying the range of risks which could impact on your business. There's a lot of things you can't control in business, but you can control your confidence, level of knowledge and awareness."

    * Ann-Maree Moodie is a corporate governance adviser, author and management lecturer. She teaches the CDC at the Sydney Graduate School of Management.


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