AICD: You were a mentee in our 2015/16 intake of the Chair’s Mentoring Program. Who was your mentor and what are some of the key lessons you learnt from their advice and mentorship?
Maree Arnason (MA): I was fortunate to be mentored by Michael Smith, the past Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Chairman, who was extremely generous with his time and engaged in candid, thought provoking and insightful dialogue.
Key lessons: Understanding motives, your value and the director environment; be prepared and curious and have the courage to lead.
Of particular interest were our discussions concerning leadership, which were based upon our shared interest of military history, and ways in which this can be effectively applied in the boardroom. Of significance was a book Michael recommended, The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman – an excellent account of the outbreak of the First World War. It describes the personalities and challenges that prevailed, as well as leadership responses under pressure. There are many parallels in this book synonymous with the leadership challenges faced by individual directors and boards.
AICD: You have successfully forged a career in what are traditionally considered ‘male dominated’ industries – namely, resources, manufacturing and energy. What are some of the positive effects of diversity (gender and otherwise) you’ve seen on the boards on which you’ve served?
MA: I grew up in a working class family with four brothers in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. My exposure to grass roots mining led me to work for BHP at the Mt Whaleback mine site in Newman and later their Melbourne corporate office. Although the Pilbara mining industry at that time was male dominated, it was ethnically diverse. One of the highlights of living in remote mining communities was the strong and inclusive social and community structures. People worked together to “get the job done” regardless of gender or background. Professionally, it was an excellent foundation in appreciating the value of diversity in harnessing the best from people and teams.
The business case outlining the benefits of board diversity is well documented. For me, the value of diversity is the capacity to draw on different perspectives and experiences to improve decision making. I don’t come to the board environment from a position of gender, rather as a director with a unique footprint and a set of experiences and skills. If through my performance that encourages boards and directors to consider the appointment of other female NEDs, I would be particularly pleased.
AICD: What advice would you give to women looking to make the transition from the c-suite into the boardroom?
- Invest time in building and developing your director network
- Better understand your own motivations for specific positions
- Consider your director educational needs
- Seek advice and plan your transition
- Be patient and choose wisely
- Being a director is an important undertaking – understand your role and responsibilities
- Consider how you can give back to the community through not-for-profit work, by contributing your time and expertise and simultaneously broadening your perspective
AICD: Last year you were granted life membership of the Australia China Business Council for your service on the National Board and your contributions to governance. How important is it for Australian boards to be outward looking? Do you have any advice for organisations that have their sights set on expansion into the Asian market?
MA: A board having an outward perspective is fundamental. A view towards global market conditions, the geo-political environment, government policy and fiscal considerations, and the significant influence of technology are critical to board strategic conversations. It’s important to realise the increasingly integrated global supply chain can take your product across many jurisdictions. For example, the design may be undertaken in Australia, parts procured globally, with the final product assembled in China and distributed globally. A board asking itself how their business performs and responds effectively in this increasingly borderless global business environment is critical.
There is no textbook or template for how political and inter-jurisdictional risks can be managed if your organisation has their sights set on expansion into Asian or other overseas markets. Nothing beats direct relevant international experience that individual board, or executive members, can bring to the table in these circumstances. Organisations should be aware and open to bringing in that experience.
Maree is a non-executive director of Sandfire Resources NL, an ASX 200 Australian copper-gold producer, and MZI Resources, an ASX-listed minerals sands operator. She is also a founding director of Energy Access Services, a private company which operates an on-line and independent wholesale gas trading platform focused on WA’s resources and energy sector.
Maree has made a major contribution to the not-for-profit sector for over 25 years. She is currently on the board of the Juniper aged-care community services board, as well as a member of the WA State Advisory Council of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia and of the WA Museum Foundation Board of Governors’ Endowment Taskforce.
To read more about this year's mentees, download the 2015/2016 Chair's Mentoring Bio Booklet.