The former investment banker talks about the challenges of being a director and the lessons he has learnt in the boardroom.
Company Director (CD): What is your background?
Tony Berg (TB): I was the first managing director of Macquarie Bank and CEO from 1985 to 1993. In 1994, I became CEO of Boral and joined Gresham Partners as an executive director when I retired in 2000 after the demerger which created Boral and Origin Energy.
I have been a director of Westfield and Record Investments and chairman of ING Australia and ING Australia Bank. I am also chairman of Jawun: Indigenous Corporate Partnerships. In addition to being on the Council of the National Gallery of Australia for six years, I remain a director of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation (which I chaired for seven years). I was chairman of the Advisory Council of the Australian School of Business at the University of NSW and am a member of the UNSW Foundation. I was also chairman and a director of Musica Viva Australia for many years.
CD: What are the biggest challenges directors face at present and why?
TB: The major challenge is that there is a wide expectations gap between what the courts, politicians and the media expect directors to do and what they can legitimately be expected to do. So there is an increasing risk that directors, particularly of large listed companies, can be sued when things go wrong. Often litigation funders benefit from the use of “20/20 hindsight” to pursue their causes. Ironically, I believe one of the causes of this is the fact that we are called “directors”. This leads other constituencies to believe we “direct” as opposed to “govern”.
CD: What is the value of Company Directors’ membership?
TB: Company Directors is a pre-eminent organisation looking after the interests of directors and providing a range of education programs to them. In my role on the Corporate Governance Committee (CGC), I see the volume of constructive lobbying and representation that the organisation does on behalf of the director community. I have also participated in, and I know that many directors have benefited from, its various education programs.
CD: What have you enjoyed most about being chairman of the CGC?
TB: I have been involved in the major issues confronting Australian directors and corporate governance generally. This has kept me up-to-date with emerging legislation, Australian Securities and Investments Commission and Australian Prudential Regulation Authority regulation and the Australian Securities Exchange’s Corporate Governance Council’s Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations. We have an outstanding group of people on the committee who bring a range of perspectives, from chairmen of large companies through to directors of smaller corporates and not-for-profits, and perspectives that cover the accounting, legal and ethics issues which tend to arise.
CD: What drives you?
TB: I guess I am regarded as a Type A individual which I am sure drives up my golf handicap! I always enjoy a challenge and I regard business as a very entertaining past-time as opposed to a chore.
CD: What was the first board you were appointed to?
TB: I was appointed to my first board when I was a young investment banker and about 30 years old at the time. We had a British client which wanted an independent person on the board of its local subsidiary. In looking after its interests, I was perhaps overly assiduous which annoyed the local CEO who had me removed after about a year. It was a very worthwhile lesson in how to juggle one’s responsibilities as a director.
CD: What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt as a director?
TB: I have worked with a large number of directors, both as a CEO and as a non-executive director. As CEO of Boral, one of the best directors I had was Mark Rayner who had the dual attributes of pinpointing the critical issue in relation to each agenda item but also, in a constructive way, making suggestions as to how this issue could be addressed. I think that is a fantastic lesson for all directors.
CD: What are your passions outside of work?
TB: My passions are eclectic. In recent years, I have had a very significant involvement in indigenous organisations, seeking to develop reconciliation and redressing the substantial disadvantage most of our indigenous people experience.
I go heli-skiing every year, play golf, tennis, swim and kayak. I am an avid art collector and enjoy drama, classical music and jazz, and I try to stay current with international developments and politics. Also, my wife and I are increasingly travelling to interesting parts of the world.
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