Onwards and upwards

Tuesday, 01 July 2014

John H C Colvin photo
John H C Colvin

    John H C Colvin reviews Company Directors’ highlights and achievements over the past six years.

    It is amazing how quickly the past six years have gone by. It seems like only yesterday that I was first appointed CEO of Company Directors and, together with the board and executive team, embarked on one of the most satisfying journeys of my professional career. It has been a great privilege to lead this institute.

    By working together and building on previous foundations, we have become recognised as the world’s leading provider of director and governance education.

    Our membership numbers have increased significantly, we have become a powerful and respected voice in policy debates and, just as importantly, our financial position has strengthened, enabling us to invest in new services.

    As I reflect on my tenure – which, as you may know, will come to an end soon – I am struck by how our efforts to create an environment in which our employees are encouraged to “have a go” and aim for a high-performance organisation with a client-centric culture have created a business in which innovation is considered paramount.

    I took on this role at the beginning of the global financial crisis. However, the wide range of initiatives we implemented in the ensuing years showed that Company Directors has the capability and capacity to thrive even in uncertain conditions.

    My final day in the office is still some time away and my successor is yet to be announced at the time of writing. But it seems appropriate to share my reflections with you before the new CEO takes up his or her role.

    Since I arrived at Company Directors in September 2008, our membership has increased by almost 50 per cent to 35,000. Staff numbers have grown from around 100 to 225 and annual revenue has jumped 90 per cent to a forecast $57 million for the 2013/14 financial year.

    This has been driven by several facets of the business. Our courses and events continue to be a lynchpin for us. We are committed to providing the highest standard of education while at the same time bringing together a diverse range of participants and excellent facilitators.

    This is reflected in a 28 per cent increase in the number of people attending our courses or briefings since 2008. In the past year alone, 46,000 people have enrolled in one of our courses or joined us at an event.

    In the past 12 months, we have also launched a bespoke service, called Board and Corporate Services. This new division tailors our educational and other services to meet the individual needs of an organisation so it can provide learning for either its board as a whole or for individual directors and executives to gain a better understanding of good governance.

    One of our key messages is that Australia’s 2.3 million directors do not just come from the “big end of town”, but are also among the people who are responsible for local sports clubs, the charities to which many of us donate or those who own businesses in local communities.

    The services we offer have been developed with this diversity of membership in mind. Our NSW Business Centre and Member Lounge, for example, has been a great success and attracted 10,000 visits last year from members requiring a meeting room or a place to prepare for meetings. We aim to roll out similar centres across the country as the opportunity arises.

    We have also introduced a Director Professional Development system for our members at minimal or no additional cost to their annual membership which recognises the importance we know they place on self-directed learning and achieving excellence in governance. It also increases their personal standing.

    One of the most exciting developments for Company Directors has been the success of international initiatives we launched in recognition of the globalisation of business.

    Increasingly, we are offering our services to members and directors based offshore, particularly in South-East Asia and the Pacific.

    Indeed, this is one of the fastest growing segments of our membership and the recent decision to create a separate South-East Asian division, based initially in Perth, will only add to this momentum.

    Likewise, our foundation membership of the Global Network of Directors’ Institutes (GNDI) – of which I am currently chairman and for which we provide the secretariat – will help us advocate for reforms that will enable directors to conduct their affairs efficiently and effectively.

    GNDI was founded in 2012 and the recent addition of four new members – from Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Mauritius – increases its capacity to influence international debate and global governance standards.

    We are well-placed to support GNDI as our policy work here at home has increased our public profile to such an extent that our views are now taken seriously in Canberra and by state governments. The insightful and robust research produced by our policy team has led to significant reforms to onerous director liability laws, the so-called 100 member rule and could possibly trigger the introduction of an honest and reasonable director defence that would bring us in line with best practice internationally.

    The upshot of our public advocacy work has been that Company Directors is now a sought-out commentator on issues of national significance and mentioned in the media around 1,000 times each year.

    Of course it’s also important to note our wide-ranging efforts to promote gender diversity on boards.

    Our efforts have helped increase the number of women on S&P/ASX 200 boards from 8.3 per cent in January 2010 to 18.2 per cent in May this year. The proportion of females on ASX 20 boards has increased to 24.6 per cent and for ASX 50 boards the figure is 22.1 per cent.

    We have committed considerable resources to initiatives such as the Chairman’s Mentoring Program which matches talented women with mentors who can help them develop their skills. We also established a scholarship program with the support of the federal government and so far it has enabled 140 women to complete our courses. It is not surprising the increase in female directors directly corresponds to our important work in this area.

    Many other organisations speak of the need to appoint more female directors, but few have made the same practical effort or impact as we have to increase the pipeline of women ready for directorship.

    There is still a long way to go, but I am a firm believer that practical measures to achieving this goal are far superior to further talk of hard quotas that will prove counter-productive.

    It goes without saying that none of our success would be possible without a dedicated board and staff, including those in our divisional offices. Our divisional councils, state managers and their teams are of the highest calibre and each division has worked hard to develop programs that lift the capabilities of members and corporate governance standards generally.

    Our Western Australian office has been at the forefront of improving governance in our mining sector and indigenous communities. The South Australian team’s successful Tomorrow’s Director series helps aspiring directors achieve their goals and the Queensland office was instrumental in establishing our presence in the Pacific region and continues to service the largest regional membership of our organisation. Tasmania has also expanded its activities outside Hobart to regional areas such as Launceston. And the ACT division has spearheaded our special focus on the not-for-profit sector

    Membership numbers in New South Wales and Victoria are now over 10,000 and 8,000 respectively – a testament to the hard work of our teams in both these states.

    There are still messages that I would like to convey to governments. As you are well aware, boards continue to be weighed down by burdensome red tape that inhibits the ability to make the investments necessary to generate growth and ultimately more jobs for all Australians. The tax base of the nation depends virtually entirely on the private sector performing well, so it is important to tackle this issue.

    We have made our views on this subject well-known to governments in our Towards Better Regulation white paper and I would urge them to continue to address it in the next wave of economic reform to help Australia make the transition from a high-cost, low-productivity economy to one based on a more sustainable footing.

    No CEO can work effectively unless there is great support and talent in the executive and leadership teams, and the board. In this regard, I have been most fortunate. In particular, the chairmen of the institute during my time – John Story, Rick Lee, James Strong and Michael Smith – have provided wise counsel and direction. Thank you to the executive team: Andrew Madry (chief operating officer), Brad Sherringham (chief financial officer), Kate Thomas (general manager, human resources), Maureen Monckton (former general manager of board and director development) and her successor Marcel Mol, Steve Burrell (general manager of communications), Rob Elliott (general manager of policy and advocacy) and Iggy Pintado (general manager of member and marketing services). They have been an excellent executive.

    Thanks also to the policy committees – Reporting, Corporate Governance and Law – and also to the Chairman’s Forum for its great work supporting management in formulating rigorous policy and advocacy.

    I would also like to thank my wife Robyn and our two children Emily and Alistair for being so supportive of me whilst undertaking this role.

    Finally, thank you to all the members who made the institute the vibrant and exciting place it has become.We have achieved much over the past six years and I am more than confident that the hard work put in by all of us will fuel continued success for Company Directors and provide a sound base for its continued successful evolution.

    I wish my successor – whoever he or she may be – all the very best and hope that his or her time at Company Directors is as exciting and satisfying as my time.

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