“He was very busy,” remembers Bailey-Lord, who says Switkowski nonetheless made time to speak or meet up with her once a month.
“He was kind enough to be accessible to me as much as I needed him. But I was careful not to exploit it,” she adds.
Described by The Australian newspaper as “one of the busiest people in corporate Australia”, Switkowski was taking part in the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ Chair’s Mentoring Program.
The 12-month program, designed to introduce highly experienced and qualified emerging female directors to chairs and experienced directors from S&P/ASX 200 organisations, has just been launched for 2015.
It aims to help women increase their practical knowledge of governance issues in listed companies; understand how listed company boards operate; develop connections with influential business leaders; and gain insights into the process of selecting and appointing new directors.
The program is also designed to enhance the connections of S&P/ASX 200 chairs and experienced directors with a pool of experienced and skilled women who may be suitable for director roles.
Bailey-Lord, with a long senior executive career behind her and experience on the boards of smaller companies and not-for-profit organisations, felt like she’d “won the lottery” when she was accepted into the program and Switkowski was named as her mentor.
“I wrote my application with a couple of mentors in mind and he was one of them,” she says.
Now a full-time independent director and business mentor, Bailey-Lord has secured a director role on the board of QBE Insurance (Aust, NZ and Asia Pacific) and has become an AICD Fellow.
She says the opportunity to “learn from someone very experienced at the high-end, large-scale directorships was incredibly helpful”.
“To have a confidential conversation and private tuition, if you will, with an experienced chairman and director really helped me shift my mindset from being an executive to seeing the world from a director view at the big end of town.”
Committed to boardroom diversity
High profile South Australian businessman Jim Hazel FAICD, who has more than 20 years’ experience on boards, has been a mentor in the AICD program for three years because he’s committed to diversity in the boardroom.
“I find it impossible that, in 2015, the interests of a diverse group of customers, shareholders and employees can be best represented by seven 68-year-old white Anglo Saxon males,” says Hazel.
Supply is not a problem, he says. “Right now there is a vast array of board-ready women in Australia... they are not as tapped into those networks as you’d expect they could be, and that’s a lot of what the program is about.”
Hazel is Chair of Ingenia Communities Group (ASX 300) and a director on a number of company and NFP boards including Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. Both Ingenia and the bank have equal numbers of male and female directors and Hazel says that, as well-performing boards, “they’re better for the diversity”.
Being part of the AICD Chair’s Mentoring Program gives Hazel “a sense of satisfaction from helping people and seeing others achieve”. And, he says, it’s also enjoyable to be part of the process of broadening the source of directors for listed companies.