We ask a prominent director to share three important lessons from three different board experiences.
Michelle Tredenick FAICD is a company director with extensive experience across a broad range of industries, including banking, insurance, wealth management, education services, health insurance, superannuation and technology. She also runs her own business advising boards and CEOs on strategy and technology.
Tredenick currently serves on a number of listed and private company boards, including ASX- listed insurer IAG, ASX-listed education services provider IDP, Vancouver-based Zafin, Urbis Pty Ltd and First Sentier Investors. She was a board member of the Bank of Queensland from 2011–20 and also served on the board of The Ethics Centre. She was a board member of Cricket Australia from 2015–22 and a senate member of the University of Queensland from 2014–21.
The Board: Vocation (2013-15)
The Lesson: Resilience is invaluable in a crisis.
Vocation was a training provider. I joined its board in 2013, towards the end of its IPO. The company ran into trouble quite spectacularly about 12 or 18 months after it was listed. (In a subsequent ASIC action, the Federal Court of Australia found Vocation had misled the market in an ASX announcement and due diligence questionnaire. The latter formed the basis for a placement in September 2014, which raised approximately $74m from investors.) There was a lot of publicity and it ended up going into administration and liquidation.
It was a very challenging experience and went on for a couple of years, but taught me the value of resilience. When you’re in a crisis and things are happening quickly and you’ve got to make decisions while under an enormous amount of public and private pressure, summoning inner strength is important.
I needed to act in the best interests of shareholders and company. In a crisis, it’s important to work as a team. I was lucky the three directors who were left shared a common sense of wanting to do the right thing for shareholders and the company. If we hadn’t, it would have been a lot worse.
I also learned the value of professional advisers. It was a tough set of lessons to learn, and we probably all thought we had failed. In retrospect, staying the course and looking after our stakeholders as best we could was a mark of what good directors do.
The Board: Cricket Australia (2015-22)
The Lesson: Knowledge about leadership and culture translates across industries.
I was on the board of Cricket Australia for about two years before the ball-tampering incident in South Africa in 2018. It was a very public failing. In the lead-up to the incident, I and several others had been having qualms about the culture developing within the group and within the team. I didn’t raise my questions or concerns because I felt that
I wasn’t an experienced cricketing person — that maybe I had misunderstood what the culture needed to be. I regret that.
I don’t want to portray this as me having had a large set of issues. If I did, I would've done something about it. At the time, I was thinking, actually, I’ve got some different views here about the values of the team and the organisation — I’m not sure that this is the right direction.
The board was receptive to different views. I just didn’t feel as though I had the expertise to question some of the sporting groups. In hindsight, I did. I’m not suggesting it may have changed anything. But it was a great lesson as a director.
In the end, the incident was about culture. The biggest lesson I learned is that you don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to understand what matters for teams and what matters for culture. What I understood about leadership and culture is translatable across many industries and issues and if your gut is telling you there are questions, speak up, even if you don't feel that you are an expert.
The Board: Undisclosed
The Lesson: Stick to your convictions on big decisions and build consensus for change
During my time on the board of this company, I and a number of other board members believed that we needed to transition the CEO and the chair. However, there wasn’t uniform agreement on the need for change. It took quite a while to build a consensus and the company suffered during that period, as companies typically do in those circumstances.
The lesson I learned was the importance of staying the distance on the big calls. If you firmly believe that there’s an important decision to be made, but it takes a while to work through it, it is incredibly important as a director that you stay the course and build a coalition for change.
Your decision-making needs to be based around the strategy for the long term — in the interests of the company — and not just a short-term decision that is expedient in the present moment.
This article first appeared under the headline 'Michelle Tredenick FAICD’ in the November 2023 issue of Company Director magazine.
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