lessons in leadership

Female board crisis delivers lessons in leadership

High profile company director Anne Ward tells us about the most challenging board crisis she's ever faced and what it taught her about leadership

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At a time when there’s a lot of concern about the number of female board members in corporate Australia, Anne Ward is a welcome exception.

Of the seven organisations of which she is a director, Anne chairs the majority of them.

Anne is chairman of Qantas Superannuation, one of Australia’s largest corporate superannuation funds which manages over $7 billion of retirement assets for its 33,000 members.

She also chairs Colonial First State Investments, which manages over $100 billion of assets on behalf of around 2 million Australian investors.

She is the chairman of both Zoos Victoria and The Centre for Investor Education, she is a director of MYOB, the Foundation for Imaging Research, and RMIT University.

In this week’s Success Story, Anne shares how the most challenging board crisis she’s faced led to a deeper understanding of what it means to lead effectively and why saying no to opportunities could be the best thing for your career.

Anne’s amazing portfolio of work has given her a wealth of experience in governance relations. She knows the importance of a high calibre chairman, no matter the industry.

“The chairman plays an incredibly important role in ensuring the board operates effectively.”

But Anne warns against blurring the lines of professionalism and friendship in these positions.

“It has to be professional and effective and close enough that either can pick up the phone at any time, but not so close that you’re friends.” she says.

Anne has navigated her fair share of boardroom challenges but one extremely difficult situation stands out, when she chaired a board that effectively became paralysed due to a conflict of interest.

“There were some deep concerns in the board about conflicts of interest that one director had. The director chose not to see that conflict” Anne recalls.

“The board degenerated into 2 warring camps and my job as chairman was to try and find a way through the mess because the board literally could not meet.”

“If we couldn’t solve this then regulators would probably step in, and the company would probably have ceased to exist.” she says.

“I called an extraordinary meeting which at least got to a pause on the issue. That particular director agreed to step away and a few months later he resigned.”

“That meeting was probably one of the most challenging meetings I’ve ever been to, let alone chaired, in my life, but I learned so much about what being an effective chairman is.” says Anne.

When a crises like this arises, unless you feel a strong connection and belief for the organisation you’re involved with, the rough times are really going to take a toll.

This one of the reasons Anne advises the professional women she mentors to be extremely selective about governance opportunities that come their way, to say no unless they are certain the role it a fit for them.

“You’ve got to have an affinity and a desire to help and make a difference and add value.” Anne advised.

“If you don’t have that affinity and a belief in the organisation and what it’s doing, it’s purpose and the people around the table with you, then I’d probably say don’t take it on. Don’t take it on just to fill your dance card.” she says.

Listen to the entire interview at The Constant Investor or on iTunes.

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