Candid conversations with directors on the interests and insights that have shaped their careers.
Favourite career lesson?
Take risks. I don’t take the traditional linear career path. I have a restlessness in me — even though I enjoyed being a lawyer, it didn’t give me enough satisfaction. It sounds dramatic, but it’s really just asking why and what’s next? That sense of curiosity has been a strong presence in my career.
Favourite big risk?
Switching from a secure legal position at the Australian Financial Institutions Commission to work with Chandler Macleod. Assessing my suitability for a role with APRA, I was told, “You’re actually much more of a commercial beast and much more dynamic — why don’t you work with us?” I followed my instinct and ended up working on integration projects for large transactions. It was the biggest risk I took and it was the catalyst for commencing an MBA and taking the management path.
Favourite brutal truth about leadership?
Many company chairs don’t possess the necessary leadership skills or curiosity. They may be skilled technicians, but often lack the ability to manage board and meeting dynamics or to motivate a team effectively.
Favourite message for modern boards?
Embrace the next generation of governance. I serve on the Diligent advisory board in New York, so I get to see some amazing next-generation leaders and directors from the US, Europe and Asia. Many boards in Australia are too comfortable with the status quo, and spend too much time on compliance rather than strategic thinking.
Favourite strategy for an effective meeting?
I advocate for the Netflix model — come to the meeting prepared, focus on the top three issues, and avoid getting bogged down in minutiae. Robust dialogue about real-time issues and concerns is far better use of the board’s time than trudging through the agenda.
Favourite professional activity that gives you energy?
I mentor for McCarthy Mentoring, Chief Executive Women and the Minerva Foundation. I don’t take a cookie-cutter approach. It’s about understanding each individual’s aspirations and guiding them to reach those goals. I’ve often left a session thinking, “This is crazy — I’m getting paid for this?” Because I’m actually getting so much in return.
Favourite way to destress?
A long walk on the beach followed by a martini is my go-to during hectic times. As a circuit-breaker, short four-day trips planned around the ASX reporting schedule. Immersion in the food, history and culture of a new city is always an adventure and an invigorating break from routine.
Jill Ker Conway’s memoir, True North. Conway was a pioneering academic in the 1960s who, due to the gender biases of the time in Australia, moved to the US. Later, she served for more than a decade on the boards of Nike, Colgate-Palmolive and Merrill Lynch.
Favourite dish to cook?
I enjoy making chutneys inspired by my grandmother’s. It’s a way to create something lasting and shareable. A cake gets eaten. Chutney, you make a big batch of it, put it in bottles for others, and the joy goes on.
Abstract expressionism with its bold and challenging pieces captivates me. Big, bold works from Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline and Barnett Newman resonate with me deeply.
Susan Forrester AM FAICD is chair of Jumbo Interactive Limited, non-executive director of Data#3 and Plenti, and an advisory board member of the New York-based Diligent Institute.
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