Long way to the top

The journey to the board of a top listed company often starts near the top: a prominent CEO is often plucked for a prestigious board. Deborah Page AM FAICD’s governance journey began in the grassroots of junior cricket, professional bodies, and other not-for-profit (NFP) roles.

Page is non-executive director of BT Investment Management, Brickworks, Service Stream and GBST Holdings. In the NFP sector, she chairs Wesley College Council (a residential college within the University of Sydney) and until recently umpired hockey matches.

In some ways, Page’s lower-profile appointments over the years say as much about her as the listed company roles. She has volunteered for dozens of NFP committees or associations and those who know her say she is among the more active contributors – someone who joins and inevitably leads committees to get the job done, not only to be seen. Her governance trajectory has a linear feel. She left the accounting firm Touche Ross in the early 1990s after becoming its first female partner, to pursue executive careers at Lend Lease Group, Allen Allen & Hemsley and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).

The former CBA CEO, David Murray AO FAICD, encouraged Page to pursue directorships and she joined the board of the New South Wales state-owned power provider, Macquarie Generation, in 2000. Murray’s support showed how important it is for CEOs to encourage and help female executives who have an interest and aptitude for governance.

Over the next 15 years, Page chaired the Cancer Council of New South Wales, served on various Commonwealth Bank subsidiaries, other government boards, then smaller listed company boards, and now large listed companies.

She worked her way up from one board to the next, across multiple industries and the government, NFP and commercial sectors.

“I left my executive career early in my forties to pursue an interest in governance,” Page says. “It was a gamble at the time, but I suppose I was in the right place at the right time to make the transition. It would be much harder today for someone to give up their executive career so early and work their way up through smaller boards as I did.”

That is a shame. Page’s experience shows the benefits of giving back to governance through committees, associations, NFPs and government boards. It gave her deep and broad governance skills, helped her stand out, and prepared her for more complex roles.

It is a useful case study for emerging directors who struggle to get their desired board roles, to be noticed in the governance community, or who become disillusioned after being rejected for directorships. Page’s journey shows the benefits of being active in the governance community and prepared to help organisations through lower-profile roles at the start.

Page is not afraid to speak out on topics ranging from politics to gender and skills diversity and governance.

She says an age limit on directors would help create much-needed opportunities for female directors and “resolve gender diversity in the near term”. And that chairs need to consider whether their oldest directors have sufficient skills in technology, given it is becoming a ubiquitous management and board skill.

“I suspect many boards are struggling with the impact of digital technology on their organisation, partly because they have some directors who are not familiar with it,” Page says. “Chairmen will have to ask tough questions in the next years on whether their board is as capable as it should be on technology.”

Page has an obvious passion for governance. One senses that her willingness to participate and give back stems from a country upbringing in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, where she spent much of her childhood in a sport-mad family watching, scoring or playing cricket, or with a hockey stick or whistle in hand. She was treasurer of Barker College Cricket in 2010 and 2011 as she juggled a portfolio of directorships.

“My dream job is being on the Cricket Australia board,” jokes Page. In cricketing parlance, Page has built a long, measured innings in governance rather than go for the quick runs. The hard work is paying off as she builds a reputation as one of Australia’s leading directors.


This is an edited version of a cover article that originally appeared in the AICD's Company Director magazine.

Deborah Page will be speaking on the panel ‘ASX: Strategies for growth, adapting to change’ at the 2017 Australian Governance Summit.

Want to find out more about the Australian Governance Summit? View the 2017 program here.