6 - Jillian Broadbent on building your board career
By The Australian Institute of Company Directors
Jillian Broadbent AC FAICD is one of the most experienced directors in Australia. Currently chair of Swiss Re Life and a director of Woolworths, Jillian has also previously held positions on the boards of the Reserve Bank of Australia, the ASX, Coca-Cola Amatil, SBS, Qantas, Westfield Property Trusts and Woodside Petroleum. She has also been on numerous arts boards, including the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and the Sydney Theatre Company. Here Jillian talks about how she built her extraordinary career, the best chairs she has worked with, how she stays across so many sectors, her advice to those starting out on their director journey and what's next for her. Valuable Discussion Points [01:26] How has Jillian managed to successfully navigate various boards responsible for numerous business sectors and industries? Executive experience in the financial sector allowed Jillian to successfully transition into a board career in which she operated on multiple boards with different industry focuses. Jillian also believes finding purpose in each board makes it much easier to distinguish your responsibilities. [02:14] Does Jillian believe she’s bringing a different approach to each board depending on its nature, e.g. listed, government, not for profit? While Jillian acknowledges that she’s always on a learning curve based on the diverse nature of her work, she posits that the governance and responsibility is similar and only requires an appetite for learning about that specific sector to really sustain engagement and interest. [06:02] Does Jillian think it’s smart for a new NED to take on multiple director positions at the beginning of their career? Naturally, at the beginning of a Director’s career they’ll want to be involved in a lot, however, Jillian believes that every individual has a personal mental and physical capacity that will be tested by a NED role. She believes that knowing what this capacity is important in creating a strong balance at the beginning of a career. [06:44] What are some of the advantages of gaining early experience on not for profit boards, especially when you’re considering a career as a NED or Director? Not for profit boards are often used by prospective NED’s to gain valuable experience on the characteristics you must possess to be Director. Jillian believes that unlike traditional executive roles, being a NED requires patience and observation as you become not the one asking the questions but one of many in a collaboration of answering them. Jillian also recognises the importance of knowing how to navigate a board room and its various members, whom often possess different values and experiences to you. [08:43] What distinguishes a ‘good’ Chair? Arguably the most important part of any board dynamic is the Chair. This individual is responsible for maintaining a healthy dynamic of board members and meetings, and Jillian believes this is achieving through valuing your input and view on any given discussion or topic. [09:59] What are some key challenges Jillian has faced when joining a new board? Jillian speaks on her experience of joining the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and within a few months being told by the government that it was going to be abolished. She highlights this ordeal as a time in which she learnt how to navigate adversity on a large scale, and that when you join a board, you’re being brought in to better it and encourage the members to want to excel. [11:08] When considering issues or discussions on a board who do you talk to in order to better understand your approach or thoughts on the topic? Due to the often stagnant nature of the annual board meeting schedule, Jillian believes informal dialogue between board members is crucial in sustaining healthy communication, building rapport and relationships as well as gaining a better understanding of the room’s dynamics [12:43] What are some critical skills you believe would assist potential women NED in attempting to begin a career as a director on boards? Jillian understands that transitioning into a board career isn’t an easy task as it takes diligence in your time and thoughts. Being a NED requires a wealth of knowledge on the topic at hand and preparation for any question or situation. Jillian also believes you need to develop comfortability with your Chair and fellow members so that you can become satisfied with any decision regardless of outcome. [14:44] How do you manage disagreements on a board? Jillian shares her experiences in not allowing any disagreement within a board to become personal. She believes it’s a skill you must learn in order to understand when and if someone is attacking your point of view or perspective, always bring it back to the subject of the discussion. Once an individual begins to make a disagreement personal or diverts from the subject it diminishes their capacity to contribute. [16:53] How do you maintain a level of enthusiasm and interest in your board roles when your schedule becomes busier? Jillian, who states she’s always been a person of curiosity, believes that each individual has their own capacity in which they need to fill. Personally, this need to discover and diverse passion for a range of industries and topics has allowed Jillian to maintain enthusiasm and drive for an extended period of time. [18:26] What are Jillian’s thoughts on the current landscape of women’s involvement in board rooms and board room roles? Jillian believes that she has seen growth, particularly within the industry sectors she’s involved in, however, acknowledges the change has and remains glacial. Any effective Chair understands that the most important diversity is the diversity of thought and this is only achieved by allowing a variety of values, experiences and people to represent these positions. [20:10] How can you challenge aspects of ‘group think’ within a board? Jillian recognises that group think stems from the complacency of executives and the Chair in not promoting diverse opportunities and individuals who possess individual thought with the ultimate goal being to consider the members of the organisation, whether that be employees, stakeholders etc. [20:53] Who are some of the directors that have impressed you over the years and what qualities do they typically possess? Jillian believes that a good director must approach all board meetings with a diligence of briefs and a consistent understanding of company direction. She believes that having a position like this allows for you to be a leader and always think laterally so then to allow others to continue growing and evolving with you. [22:26] What advice would you give to a woman considering a transition or preparing for a transition into a NED career? Jillian recognises that this transition is all about timing, because as discussed prior becoming a NED is a mentally and physically taxing role. Preparing for this type of role is also just as important and can be conducted through procuring any style of executive or governing position experience within your organisation. [24:06] What are Jillian’s future career plans? Jillian has and believes she always will continue to look only at the task at hand and never any further. Planning and scheduling within an annual board calendar has allowed Jillian to maintain focus and she has no plans to stop this style of occupation Key Learnings Every board, regardless of industry or sector, proposes new and valuable lessons and you must be prepared for these. Evaluate your mental and physical capacity before making a decision to join a specific board. When you’re an executive you’re more in control of outcomes, whereas as a NED you become more a part of the conversation. Informal dynamics of being a NED are nearly just as important as the formal meetings. Focus on the subject at hand, no matter the state of the room - at any point if you bring it back to the subject it can be productive. The most important diversity is the diversity of thought and if you limit this diversity it instantly becomes detrimental to the company. Group think refers to the practice of thinking or generating a decision as a group and is typically unchallenged and promotes poor-quality decision making. Quotable Quotes “I think everyone’s got to adjust their load with their capacity and I say their capacity being their mental and physical capacity” – Jillian Broadbent “I think… as an executive, you’re so much more in control of outcomes and what you can do about it, whereas as a non-executive you’re one step removed from that” – Jillian Broadbent “I think making your voice heard is more a matter of what you’re saying rather than how you’re saying it. If you do your homework and you’ve got the facts and you understand what the company is really focused on… then it’s usually pretty effective” - Jillian Broadbent “When you do have a concentration of shareholding, you realise that your impact or potential impact as one non-executive director is much more diluted” – Jillian Broadbent Important Resources and Links | If you would like to gain knowledge in governance, and develop as a director in your industry or field, visit https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/. If you would like to learn more about how CommBank is ensuring women are advancing their growth in business, visit https://www.commbank.com.au/women-in-focus.html. Host of the Board Level podcast, Catherine Fox is one of Australia’s leading commentators on women and the workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine and the issues she’s currently discussing, visit https://www.abc.net.au/news/catherine-fox/5244818. If you’re interested in learning more about Jillian’s contributions to the finance, arts and higher education sectors as well as her career achievements, view her biography on Advance https://www.advance.org/jillian-broadbent, or read more about her on her University of Wollongong Australia page https://www.uow.edu.au/about/governance/governance-structure/university-council/jillian-broadbent/. The Board Level podcast is produced by Nicole Hatherly, recorded at RadioHub Studios with post production by Cooper Silk, Iain Wilson and Matthew Lane.