After carving out a high-level path in government, he now sits on a number of boards both large and small as a chair and director. Here in an episode of the AICD’s new podcast Boardroom Conversations, former Queensland government minister Andrew Fraser shares tips on chairing boards and working as a top-level board director, in particular in navigating the tricky and turbulent terrain of sports boards such as his Brisbane Broncos board. Listen to the podcast here.

    As chair of both super fund the Australian Retirement Trust and the NFP homeless laundry service Orange Sky, Andrew Fraser works with both big and small boards, but he finds similarities that cut across both.

    “A board that’s in day-to-day management, and a board that's responding to daily media cycles, that’s a board that's in crisis,” he declares on the AICD’s new podcast Boardroom Conversations.

    “But a board that's thinking about, ‘What does this organisation look like in two, three and five years time?’ is a board that's discharging their responsibility.”

    Chairing boards is also a particular skill and there are ways to make that role more efficient, no matter the size of the board, he says.

    “One of the one of the strongest attributes you can have as a chair is to make sure you … and I'm going to use a footy field analogy again, keep up the chat. That is, make sure that the lines of communication are open, both with your colleagues around the board table, but also particularly with the CEO. One of the things that I do is have regular planned interactions with CEOs as a chair.”

    The chair needs to provide the framework for how the debate's going to be conducted, he adds. “You need to neither not dominate nor abrogate. And you need to be prepared to step in and call something to a decision or a call it off, to retreat, to come back, or to press to an outcome. I think the role of chair can be as rewarding as it is challenging.”

    Succession planning is another area of commonality, no matter what board it relates to. As a chair or as leader of a board, you always have to look forward, says Fraser. “And that's not the next five minutes. It’s thinking about next year, two years, three years henceforth… I'm fond of a sporting analogy… if I think about how we construct the player pipeline at the Brisbane Broncos, we're not just thinking about what the team looks like next weekend. That's actually not the job of the board.“ The job of the board is to look at development of the talent pipeline over the next three and five years.

    “Too often you witness people who stay at the crease too long. And so, my one observation, or one determination, is I'm determined not to be the chair who stays there too long.”

    Sports boards

    Sports boards have a unique set of stakeholders such as fans, players, broadcasters and sponsors, and they also operate in the public eye, he says. So there are particular considerations for sports boards that come with the territory.

    Sports rely in various forms on corporate sponsorships, and diversity is an increasingly a legitimate expectation, he says. “I'd say a legitimate expectation of many corporates for supporting sporting organisations is - how does this promote gender diversity in particular, but also other forms of diversity?”

    He says many directors find the role of sitting at the sports board table nothing like they imagined it would be. “If you are turning up at your sports board table, whether this is a small community-based or professional like the Brisbane Broncos, and you think your job is to run the organisation and pick the team, then you're sitting in the wrong chair,” says Fraser.

    Despite sports boards operating in a highly passionate environment, ultimately the task at the board table is the same at every other board table. That is: ‘How do you promote the interests of the organisation?’

    The super-sized super sector

    As the Australian Retirement Trust is the nation’s second-biggest super fund, servicing more than 2.3 million members and their $240 billion in retirement savings, the job of the board comes with significant responsibility and the special role of trusteeship in the sector, says Fraser.

    “It's a large corpus of money that belongs to other people. You are a fiduciary looking after other people's money with responsibilities to them. And so the complexity that comes with ensuring you are invested well, looking after other people's money, and doing that in a compliant way that observes all of that overlay, makes the task of sitting at the board table both extremely nourishing but reasonably burdensome compared to other trustee roles. Or other director roles.”

    ART was formed through the merger of Sunsuper and QSuper. The merger which has taken place over the last 18 months was “extremely challenging and it remains a challenge today,” says Fraser. However, it is also an opportunity.

    “There's no doubt that economies of scale are a really large driver in the landscape. That's what underpins the rationale for our merger and that is certainly the platform for delivering the benefits to members.”

    Lessons from politics

    After the rough-and tumble of political life, where he served as Queensland Treasurer and Deputy Premier, Fraser now translates these political and life skills into his new career as a board director.

    “I think the thing that I learnt the most through that period of time was how to manage complexity. I think the biggest thing I learnt was how to work through complexity and how to sort the signals from the noise, what to focus on and what not to focus on.”

    When comparing sitting at the Cabinet table and sitting at the board table, he says the role of a minister is much more akin to being a chair than it is to a CEO.

    “But it's no different to signing up anywhere. You need to understand the culture, understand the mandate, understand the operating environment, and press on from there.”

    About Boardroom Conversations

    Boardroom Conversations is a new podcast from the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In each episode, we’ll have a candid conversation with a company director, delving into their background, journey to the boardroom, and the challenges they’ve faced. We’ll discuss their leadership style, approach to decision-making, and some of the lessons they’ve learned.

    Listeners will hear from experienced directors such as Marina Go MAICD, who is the Chair of Adore Beauty, and also a director with Energy Australia, 7-Eleven and Transurban and Dr Kirstin Ferguson AM FAICD, who is an author, columnist and company director. She’s a former Acting Chair of the ABC, and currently sits on the boards of PEXA and Envato. We will also hear from board members who are just beginning their governance career. We'll cover a wide range of topics, including strategy, stakeholders, risk management, innovation and more.

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