Maxine Horne’s career has seen her take the leap from small business owner to CEO of ASX-listed Vita Group Limited. Ahead of her appearance at an upcoming Directors’ Breakfast, Maxine sits down with the AICD to discuss her lessons learnt, how organisations can better support women in the workforce and how she handled the transition from being the ‘kingpin’ of her own business to having to answer to a board.
Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD): You have had a very successful career. What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt?
Maxine Horne (MH): One of the key lessons I’ve learnt is to never give up because there is always a way, we just need to find it.
It is also critically important to surround yourself with capable people who believe in your purpose. You want these people to understand their role and their part to play in that purpose, and to take on the ownership of the business as much as you do.
Another lesson I have learnt is to treat your people with respect and provide them with an environment where they can flourish and grow. At Vita Group, one of our goals is to make sure the organisation has a culture of team and individual development. The reason we do this is because the more capable and talented people we have, the better organisation we have.
AICD: You first started Fone Zone in the mid-nineties and since then you have led the company through a transition of diversification and expansion. What is your advice for companies looking to take the next step and list on the ASX?
MH: For someone who is looking to list their company on the ASX, the one thing I would suggest is to prepare for it.
Start by establishing a board eighteen months or two years out from actually becoming a publicly listed company because there are a lot of things that you need to do in preparation for listing that that you might not necessarily have the experience for.
AICD: When you listed and you made the move to establish a formal governance structure and answer to a chair and a board. What were some of the challenges that you faced in this process?
MH: The biggest challenge for me was having to report to somebody. I had spent 15 years being the kingpin and all of a sudden, I was now accountable to someone else. This was a big change for me.
I used to take the board challenging and the questioning what we [management] were doing as being critical and it wasn’t until three or four years later and having a very good chairman as my mentor that I fully understood that while I am embedded in the business full-time, a company director only sees it once a month.
The Board’s responsibility is to make sure that you are doing the right thing by the shareholders. Once that sunk in, I found it much easier to deal with a board and now I don’t know what I would do without them.
AICD: You’re a great advocate for women in the workplace, what do you think organisations can do to create an environment that is more flexible and compatible for families and women?
MH: This is obviously a hot topic and I think that there are a number of things organisations can do – but there’s no silver bullet.
For example, at Vita one thing we do is make sure we don’t tie people to their desks. We provide a very flexible working arrangement and with today’s technology, you can do that.
We also make it very clear that family comes first. If your children are ill, you go and pick them up from school. If they’re in a show and they want to see you in the audience, you go and do that. One day in a corporate environment is nothing but your child will remember that you were the only parent that wasn’t there.
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