Profile: John Story

Thursday, 01 February 2007

Nichola Clarke photo
Nichola Clarke

    The newly appointed chairman of the AICD, John Story, aims to maintain and extend the role of the Institute in servicing the needs of company directors and representing their interests with government regulators and the broader community. Nichola Clarke reports.

    Story writes the next chapter for the AICD

    Bringing 37 years of legal practice and over 10 years experience as a non-executive on the board of some of Queensland’s most successful companies, John Story took over the baton as AICD chairman in November 2006. He is on the mark and is set to lead the Institute on the next stage of its important journey in representing the director community.

    Besides a wealth of commercial and corporate experience, Story is suitably primed for the role having been an integral part of the AICD since 1998. After familiarising himself with the Institute, Story soon became a member of the Queensland council. Over the past two years he has successfully led the Queensland Council as President and been an active and invaluable member of the national board.

    Over the next three years, Story is hoping to take the AICD from strength to strength. “The AICD is a very effective organisation,” Story says. “I’m really looking at a continuation of the existing objectives, policies and strategies. The AICD does a very good job in the contribution it makes in its role to service the needs of company directors and represent their interests with government regulators and the broader community.”

    One of the greatest assets Story brings to the table is his legal aptitude – a lifelong passion that has not only opened many doors for him in the non-executive world but has formed the backbone of his approach and interest as a chairman and board member.

    Early career

    Story started out in his career working as a young corporate and commercial lawyer for Chambers McNab & Co, one of Queensland’s long-established law firms founded in 1885. He became a partner in the firm which in time became the national law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, of which he is non-executive chairman today.

    As a lawyer, Story says he worked closely with the Queensland business community. “The role of a lawyer is multifaceted,” describes Story. “There is the intellectual challenge of the legal issues and the cut and thrust of negotiations, but you also have the constructive contribution as part of a team being involved in the creation and development of commercial enterprises.”

    Enjoying both facets of the role, Story became increasingly interested in the growth of business. “As a lawyer, I found playing a part in the formation and development of companies enormously satisfying, and I believe this naturally led to my moving into director roles.”

    One such example is his involvement with one of Queensland’s business success stories – Jupiters Ltd. Firstly as a lawyer and then as a board member, Story followed Jupiters Ltd on its journey from a fledgling Queensland business through to its merger with Tabcorp Holdings Ltd in 2003. Tabcorp is Australia’s premier gambling and entertainment group.

    Story talks fondly of Jupiters like a proud father. “I was originally involved in the formation of Jupiters and for the next 10 years of its life as a lawyer before joining the board,” he explains.

    Tourism market

    Story goes on to explain the significance of Jupiters to Queensland and the Gold Coast. “Its first property, Jupiters International Hotel and Casino, was opened in 1985 – it’s just had its 21st anniversary! At the time it was the largest hotel in Australia and the first international standard hotel on the Gold Coast. It transformed the tourism market on the Gold Coast and brought it through to a far higher level of sophistication. It’s been a major employer in the community ever since and has trained numerous young people in the tourism and hospitality sector who have gone on to work around Australia and overseas.”

    Jupiters was floated on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1983, and merged with Tabcorp Holdings three years ago. Talking about the merger Story says: “We were sorry to see the end of Jupiter’s independence but there was a recognition by the board that we’d taken it as far as we could. In the interests of the shareholders, there was greater value to be derived as part of Tabcorp.”

    Story has travelled on a similar journey with Queensland based financial institution Metway Bank. Once again, Story was originally involved with the business in a purely legal capacity, but was invited to join the board in 1995 because of his background as a corporate lawyer. As part of the board, Story oversaw the merger in 1996 of the Queensland Government owned Suncorp and QIDC entities to create a new group, Suncorp Metway Limited, of which Story is now chairman.

    Story describes his participation in the growth of Suncorp Metway as one of his proudest achievements. “Following the merger ten years ago, Suncorp has grown from a company with assets of $20 billion and 29,000 shareholders to being one of Australia’s top 25 listed companies with an asset base of approximately $57 billion with 177,000 shareholders and market capitalisation of $11 billion. It is now the biggest Queensland-based company with activities and operations across Australia,” Story says. “There have been a number of challenges along the way but Suncorp Metway today is a very successful organisation and I have derived a lot of enjoyment by being part of its growth.”

    Suncorp is now engaged in the next step of its journey, as it works its way through the procedures required for its merger with Promina Group Limited.

    Story attributes part of the company’s outstanding success to the culture within Suncorp Metway. “It is very open and there is a lot of mutual respect. This is very much reflected in the approach of the board.”

    Efficient board

    So what else does Story believe contributes to an effective and efficient board? “The effectiveness of a board depends very much on how the team works together. There must be respect for the contribution each board member makes and it is important to moderate your own views. You must be prepared to take into account different people’s opinions expressed around the table.”

    It is his legal experience that Story believes he draws upon to find this balance in the boardroom. “My experience as a partner of a professional firm has been good training for the boardroom,” he says. “A partnership in a law firm depends on a very similar relationship. It involves pretty strong personalities and big egos. To be successful as a board, you have to make those personalities and egos work together. Board members are generally highly successful people and normally with fairly strong views. The nature of a board requires that consensus is achieved by being prepared to listen to other views and a willingness to reach a common ground.”

    Besides drawing upon his legal experience Story has looked to other great directors for inspiration. “Queensland has been fortunate in having a number of outstanding directors who have worked very actively in the promotion of Queensland based companies such as Rod Wylie, Frank Haly, Graham Tucker and Rod Cormie. Well recognised in Queensland, they are good role models. They were good at what they did, with a high level of integrity combined with commercial wisdom and acumen,” Story says.

    Without question, Story himself is in the Queensland hall of fame of directors for his business achievements and dedication to the growth of Queensland business, however, Story’s interests reach beyond the publicly listed company boardroom. Story is also actively involved in the broader Queensland community. For the past 12 months, he has taken a position as a member of the Senate of the University of Queensland.

    “It is a very fascinating organisation and a very successful university,” he says. “I hope that I can apply some of the skills I have developed as a company director in contributing to the governance of the university.”

    Story is also involved as Commissioner with the Service Delivery and Performance Commission. Set up in 2005, the role of the Commission is to review and identify possible cost savings, waste or inefficiencies in Queensland Government departments to ensure taxpayers are getting good value for money. The Commission works in partnership with agencies to develop effective ways to target performance objectives, to improve outcomes and to measure improvements.

    “It has a very effective and constructive secretariat that is doing a lot of good work,” says Story. “The Commissioner’s role is to review and oversee that work.”

    AICD chairman

    From Story’s portfolio, it is clear that he is keen to make a difference in Queensland community but with his latest role as chairman of the AICD he is also eager to make a difference on a national level within the director community.

    “The AICD is a very diverse organisation,” Story explains. “Its members are directors of a broad spread of companies – not for profits, government agencies and corporations. It is a vital and effective organisation but my concern is that its achievements and the contribution it makes may not be as well recognised by the senior directors within Australia as they should. One of the objectives of the AICD board is to increase the recognition of this role among the senior director community. We will be seeking to increase the participation of those directors and demonstrate to them the importance and significance of the role that the AICD plays.”

    So how does Story see his role as chairman and his approach to leading the AICD?

    “As a chairman I hope I’m seen as inclusive and collegiate. The role of the chairman is not to dominate and not to dictate your own views but to work together towards a common ground. It is also a matter of recognising that from time to time you need to take the lead in bringing the board to a settled view. I don’t believe it’s my role to come in and make major changes. There’s a well thought out policy and strategy that the board and management have developed. Our role is to continue down that path, but with ongoing refinement.”

    And to help with its ongoing refinement our new chairman John Story calls upon each of you to help continue the great success of the Institute and looks forward to working with you in the future in writing the next chapter of the AICD.

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