Q&A with Bill Scales

Friday, 01 March 2013


    Bill Scales explains why ongoing learning is important for directors and why he joined Company Directors’ National Education Advisory Committee.

    Company Director (CD): What is your background?

    Bill Scales (BS): I started my professional life as an apprentice fitter and machinist, which was a great maturing process. I managed manufacturing sector businesses until my late 30s and meanwhile completed an economics degree at Monash University. At 38, I was asked by Senator John Button to move into public policy and run the organisation that implemented the Button Car Plan. I then became the chairman of the Industry Commission, the precursor to the Productivity Commission, and later, Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria, where I worked with premiers Jeff Kennett and Steve Bracks. Following this, I spent five years as Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski’s chief of staff. During all of that time, and particularly over the past six years, I have been involved in many boards in the public, private and not-for-profit (NFP) sectors.

    CD: What do you enjoy most about your involvement with the National Education Advisory Committee (NEAC)?

    BS: Company Directors has a very special educative role to play. It is important to provide an opportunity for directors to continually upgrade their capabilities and better understand their changing worlds. It is also vital that Company Directors does this in a practical, professional way and with a sound educational pedagogy. NEAC attempts to achieve these goals by constantly reviewing all our educational offerings, adding new ones where appropriate and modifying existing offerings to meet the changing educational needs of directors. It’s very exciting to be a small part of this important work.

    CD: NEAC supported the development of the Director Self-assessment Tool (see p62). What was the thinking behind this?

    BS: We had a number of reasons for wanting to develop and introduce the Director Self-assessment Tool. We were aware that many directors wanted an understanding of their own performance in the boardroom. This tool helps them consider the issues that will ensure they give their best each time they sit at the boardroom table. In addition, it allows them to begin to have a conversation with their chairmen and other board members about their performance, based on a few simple but well-understood criteria. It will also help directors plan their professional development programs, based on a reasonably well-defined set of principles and practices.

    CD: Why is ongoing learning important for directors and what makes it effective?

    BS: Not only is the environment in which our businesses and organisations operate in rapidly changing, so are the legal, regulatory and market structures. As directors, we have an obligation to do all we can to keep abreast of these changes. Ongoing learning and education is one way to do this.

    CD: What do you foresee as the biggest challenges for directors over the coming year?

    BS: Understanding and effectively responding to the complex and confusing economic conditions is a challenge facing all boards. The local Australian political uncertainty is also sure to challenge the decision-making capabilities of most boards in all kinds of sectors. In addition, coping and responding to the increasingly complex industrial relations and regulatory environment for business at many levels is going to be a challenge for us all.

    CD: What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt as a director?

    BS: I’ve learnt the importance of good governance. I have found that if I give significant thought and consideration to good governance when I’m involved in the development or change in organisations, this inevitably avoids problems in the future.

    CD: What value does a Company Directors membership offer you?

    BS: My membership keeps me in touch with the complex world of the professional director. It makes me constantly think of myself as a director with all the responsibilities this involves. It also enables me to build my professional capability and puts me in touch with like-minded directors, who, like me, are always struggling to be better at our chosen profession.

    CD: Who inspires you?

    BS: As I get older I’m continually inspired by most of the people I meet. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I seem to be meeting more and more committed and capable people. I see examples every day of people wanting to change their organisations for the better and who do so with incredible skill and sophistication. meet people in the public, private and NFP sectors who worry about how Australia will meet its challenges. But carefully, patiently and systematically, they are doing something about these challenges. These people inspire me.

    CD: What are your interests outside of work?

    BS: We have been blessed with four grandchildren with another on the way. They, with the rest of our family, are an important part of my life. I also try to keep fit and healthy. We love walking and have done a number of challenging walks in Australia and overseas.

    Bill Scales AO FAICD
    Member, National Education Advisory Committee
    Australian Institute of Company Directors

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