As we navigate a rocky new landscape in 2020, upskilling and education have never been more important for directors and business leaders. Many see this as an ideal time to study online and prepare for an unknown future where business models will change, strategy will reset, workforce issues and oversight of culture will be front and centre, and director duties will evolve. The AICD’s Company Directors Course Self-Paced is a good place to start. Here we speak to five graduates of the flexible course about the pathways they are pursuing this year.

    The year 2020 will be one we all remember as lockdown time, when most of us were working from home and not spending time commuting, meeting interstate, attending conferences, taking overseas sabbaticals or socialising face-to-face. So, with a changed diary and set of commitments for the year, many professionals are looking to invest in themselves, upskill and gain new qualifications.

    Singapore-based Dale Cook GAICD, founder and managing director of DB3 Advisory, who studied the self-paced version of the Company Directors Course (CDC) course last year, is still spending “a couple of hours a day” on other study in 2020. “Right now, if you think about it, most people have some time because they are not commuting each day anymore…. So now, study is a perfect opportunity.”

    He sees this as a good time to fully utilise the resources available to improve director mindset, knowledge and awareness. “So you can apply that to the business later on. The businesses that come out of this (COVID-19 crisis) will be much stronger. And that will be a fantastic badge of honour that you have brought your business through.”

    A wealth of online courses

    Whether it’s an online MBA from a university or the Australian Institute of Management, scholarships offered through professional bodies, or courses to be found on LinkedIn, there is a wealth of online learning out there for directors, business leaders and professionals alike.

    You can also choose from webinars offered by the AICD on COVID-19 and many other topics, plus other online course offerings. Members continue to receive DPD units for any professional development they undertake with the AICD, and can also self-log professional activities through external providers provided activities relate to directorship and governance, as identified in the Company Directors Corporate Governance Framework™.

    Flexible learning a selling point

    Cook studied the CDC Self-Paced course from Singapore over six months in 2019. “The reason why I recommend the Self-Paced course is simply because it gives you some flexibility for yourself. It allows you to dig in as deep as you want to, when you want to and fit it in around your schedule. You don't have to give up a commitment of a whole week of your time plus study before and afterwards. And you don't have to travel into another part of Australia or the world. So that flexibility is a big selling point.”

    He also found valuable the video component of the course which explores a mock boardroom in action and helped him to move past text and theory to real life application and visualisation.

    Separately, Cook has just completed a Singapore Institute of Directors Listed Entity Directors course and he is also currently studying a doctorate through Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University, looking at board culture and innovation. “It was interesting to see that some of the papers referenced by the AICD CDC Self-Paced course material contained some of the latest studies that I had been reading about for university.” He has been working on the new research to help improve his service offering to governance clients.

    People must think differently after COVID-19, he says. “They now have time to think and come up with new ideas, which are going to have implications in regard to strategy, governance and risk associated with the business. So I recommend to any boards and directors out there to have a look, just generally what is there in the area of innovation.”

    Sue Hansford GAICD Managing Director Integra LifeSciences, Director Road Trauma Support Services Victoria

    Constant travel either interstate or overseas made the CDC Self-Paced course the best choice for Hansford. “I was very busy with all the travel, so I really needed the flexibility to study in my own time. I am very self-disciplined, so I was able to complete the course over six months even though I had three overseas trips in that time.”

    Hansford says there is a “fantastic” opportunity right now with people working from home, to undertake online professional development. “The advantage of working from home is that little bit more work flexibility. You can fit in a half hour or hour-long webinar, which is highly valuable. I've attended some very good ones.”

    Hansford says what she gained from studying the CDC Self-Paced is a director mindset in her role as managing director which was useful for her business and her communication with finance managers, because she has responsibility for both the sales and commercial side of the business as well as oversight of all functions.

    “The biggest advantage has been the understanding of the financial aspects. In the course, I learned a lot about the balance sheet and how inventory impacts the profit and loss balance. So that part of it has been very valuable. For my board position as well, it has been something that's given me a totally different aspect of looking at a business.”

    In terms of future career development, she intends to join more commercial boards over the next five to seven years, in what she sees as a new stage in her career. And more subcommittees, especially in the risk area.

    “I'm from a science background. So after doing the CDC Self-Paced I am keen to get involved in a more commercial area on a board. I've started on a not for profit, which has actually been a huge learning curve for me, because to see little to no profit on a balance sheet and on a profit and loss statement is a shock to me. I'm used to seeing considerable profits in the industry I am in, so that in itself has been a learning curve.”

    She sees gaining her first board position last year as professional development in itself. “I continue to learn and engage with that new learning every time I attend a board meeting, so for me that that's part of the whole professional development situation.”

    In terms of other professional development, her current webinar subject matter mostly relates to COVID-19. “A lot of the webinars have related to legal situations or financial solutions that different businesses have come up with. COVID-19 is swamping our very existence at the moment in every aspect. But I think the advantage of these types of seminars or video or phone calls, is we can all learn from each other and what's working and what isn't. So we can all get through this.”

    Professor Lindsay Richards (Adelaide) GAICD, Chair and director, Australian Dental Council

    Studying the CDC Self-Paced course made a significant difference to his strategic role as chair of the Australian Dental Council Board, says Professor Richards. “In the videos, seeing how the chair of the board operated was valuable. There were important lessons in that. Some of the case studies were also really good because they used examples of corporate success and failure that I was aware of but had never understood.”

    He completed the online course while working fulltime as an academic at Adelaide University and sitting on the Dental Council Board. So nights and weekends were the only time he had available. “I got inspired and motivated by doing the course and am now thinking about applying for other not-for-profit boards and taking on some new challenges, perhaps in the aged care sector.”

    All 10 modules were interesting in different ways, but the Risk Management module was most valuable, he adds. “As a board member I had looked at risk registers, but I now realise that I didn't fully understand them or interpret them in the right context.”

    The principle of ‘having your nose in but your fingers out’ of the business was also something that many boards of which he had been a part in the past probably did not get right.

    “It's a rigorous, detailed program of assessment. I think when you see people who are displaying the post-nominal from the Australian Institute of Company Directors, you know they are people who have been through a rigorous process and have met the standard, which makes me proud to have completed the course.”

    As to further professional development, in his profession of dentistry, there are many webinars to watch and articles to read, particularly at the moment about how to cope with both the professional and business challenges associated with the COVID-19 crisis.

    “There's no time that's not a good time for professional development. But this is a particularly good time in that there are new challenges arising. And for many of us there's time to do it and think about it. I will be accessing some AICD webinars on not-for-profits. And over summer I bought a couple of AICD books online so I will be reading those during this period.”

    Kristy Choat, GAICD Finance Manager, Macquarie University

    As a finance professional, Kristy had reported to boards for a long time, but she wanted to gain more understanding from a board perspective of what boards need to know.

    She had also sat on a management committee and acted in two volunteer school governance roles. “After those, I felt like I would rather have more knowledge and skills. So I thought I should do the CDC Self-Paced before I take on another not for profit governance type role.”

    With family and other commitments, it was not possible for her to take five days off for the CDC residential course. “So for me the Self-Paced course with its flexibility was a big drawcard.

    “I also thought the course was really great at throwing all these scenarios at you and making you think about things from half a dozen different angles. I think that's a really valid approach and will help me do my job better in the future and equip me well for my first board role.”

    In terms of professional development, Kristy joined the Women on Boards Australia group which is running networking and assistance webinars and podcasts. “So I am looking at that sort of assistance and at getting onto particular boards.”

    She has also recently completed two refresher courses on financial modelling in order to keep up to date with developments and changes.

    Brad Snow GAICD (WA) General Manager Doral Fused Materials

    Doral Fused Materials is owned by Japanese corporate Iwatani and the board holds three meetings per year – one in Japan and two in Australia. As general manager, Brad Snow attends the board meetings and wanted to understand the role of the board better.

    However, he wanted to do the CDC Self-Paced course for his own career development as well.

    “I thought the CDC Self-Paced course was good value for me because I actually didn't do it through work - I did it personally. I thought it was worth doing for my own personal development and to understand the role of the board.”

    At the time he did the course in 2019, taking a week’s annual leave from work to attend the CDC face-to-face course was too difficult. “So when I found that there was a self-paced option I was very, very happy.”

    “I think the CDC Self-Paced is a good course and is obviously even more applicable right now due to the COVID-19 lockdown. It's certainly a good opportunity right now. It’s a very concise way of learning the role of what a director does and is a good course for any director.”

    He found there was a lot of work and a lot of information and knowledge that goes into the course “so I think that it is good value. There is a surprising amount of information – 1,000 pages broken down into 10 modules”.

    “I found the whole course pretty interesting including the newer areas for me such as corporate governance and duties of directors. I did an MBA many years ago, so some of the CDC Self-Paced course acted as a sort of refresher for the MBA for me, especially in finance areas which are part of my role.”

    Six months after finishing the course, he revisited his summary notes as a refresher as well, especially in the areas of finance. “After six months you don't want to start losing all the information you've learned.

    In terms of professional development this year, he is not planning to do anything more until he consolidates the CDC Self-Paced information. “I'm really more keen on consolidating the course that I did for now and I'm more than happy just to go back over the notes. I just want to lock in some of that learning.”

    Explore all online AICD course offerings here and study anywhere, anytime, at a pace that suits you.

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