Candid conversations with directors on the interests and insights that have shaped their careers. 

    Favourite career lesson?

    When I finished as chair of EY back in 2015, as I made my farewell speech, I realised that the six partners who were standing in front of the audience had worked in teams I had led for an average of more than 20 years. It struck me that for all the great transactions you work on and the clients you advise over decades, what stays with you when you move on from that part of your career is legacy. The reality is that others move into those roles, and firms change so much, but the legacy of the impact you had on people doesn’t go away.

    Favourite career risk that paid off?

    I left South Africa during the apartheid era to study in London. I began working there in the early 1980s, specialising in international tax law. I wanted to do something that was mobile. Maybe there was a touch of naïvety to specialise so early in my career, but I took the risk. I came to Australia as it was embarking on an increasing level of complexity in international tax laws, so the risk paid off. I’m not suggesting it was a risk I was smart enough to take — I was just lucky it worked out that way.

    Governance issues that are top of mind?

    Cyber is certainly one. Companies that arrange cyber and ransom simulations and don’t involve the board are kidding themselves. The board needs to be involved in the simulations to realise the complexity of the situation that companies can face.

    ESG is another. The licence to operate in the resources industry has existed for decades and, as businesses and the world have become more sophisticated, ensuring you’re managing your wider stakeholders is an appropriate corporate responsibility. Part of the responsibility for a director is to make sure you are exercising your governance to ensure the company endures over time. In that context, if you have a particular focus on certain vertical aspects of what falls under the E, S and G, that’s part of your role. We need to stop labelling ESG as if it’s one thing.

    Future of leadership prediction?

    The way a leader behaves when no-one is watching reflects their real values and how they’ll be perceived by the people in the organisation. Leaders must be transparent with a preparedness for vulnerability. The empathetic leader who’s more comfortable living in a world of ambiguity is a safer pair of hands than the one who is overconfident and dominates a room.

    Favourite travel spot?

    Italy has always been magical because of its diversity. I could tell you how much I love Portofino and Positano, but do I love them more than Tuscany? Each region is so different. Japan is another favourite. I used to go there for business, but it felt like the same hotel, same restaurant, same meeting room. When I went there with my wife and friends recently, we travelled throughout the country and I particularly enjoyed Kyoto and the Art Islands. Israel is also fascinating.

    Favourite TV series?

    It’s quite old now, but I’d highly recommend the French espionage series, The Bureau. It focuses on French interests in the Middle East. Another show that has stayed with me is Breaking Bad. There was such an unpredictability to it and it reinforced to me that so many of us live in a bubble.

    Favourite way to relax?

    I love playing golf. I’m not a particularly good player, but I’m lucky to be a member of some fantastic golf courses. Walking with friends in a beautiful environment is also a good way to get some exercise. It’s also about the combination of fun that you have with others. Golf is a fantastic way to get to know people.

    Michael Wachtel FAICD is a board member of Future Fund, SEEK, Pact Group Holdings Ltd and St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research. Previously Asia Pacific & Oceania chair of Ernst & Young (EY).

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