Directors’ efforts ‘never ending’

Attending a recent presentation function in Dunedin are (from left) Institute of Directors Otago...
Attending a recent presentation function in Dunedin are (from left) Institute of Directors Otago-Southland branch chairwoman Trish Oakley, chartered member Jacinta Ruru and institute chief executive Kirsten Patterson. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
The Otago-Southland branch of the Institute of Directors recently awarded chartered fellow and chartered member status to Paul Moodie and Jacinta Ruru respectively. Business editor Sally Rae talks to the pair about their governance journeys.

"In the role of a director, you don’t get to sit on the sideline. You make some tough calls along the way."

Paul Moodie was reflecting on his governance career which saw him recently receive chartered fellow status from the Institute of Directors’ Otago-Southland branch.

The acknowledgement for the chartered accountant and Findex Wānaka senior partner recognised a significant and long contribution to the director profession, which included both community and business entities.

Mr Moodie said people either had a community spirit or they did not. Some were very good at business but did not get involved in the community — "that’s so not me", he said.

Currently, his governance roles include chairing the Warbirds Over Wanaka Community Trust, the Healthcare Otago Charitable Trust and Tuapeka Gold Print, and he is also an independent director on the Aotea Group board. He spent 16 years on the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust and it was positions like that which were a "fantastic" thing to do for the community, knowing it benefited many people.

He only recently took over as Warbirds chairman and, while an economic impact report was expected in a couple of months outlining the financial impact on the community of this year’s event, it would be "well north" of the $42million in 2018.

His role at Findex allowed him to do his governance duties as part of that and he was able to transfer the knowledge he gained to other staff throughout the country who were advisers and directors on boards.

He was hosting sessions in Wānaka in May, July and September to "open up the world of governance" to people who might not be familiar with it.

"Lots of mums and dads are told to set up a company, a lot don’t really know what a director is," he said.

Mr Moodie’s own governance career began when he was co-opted on to the board of trustees at Otago Boys’ High School in the early 2000s, to deal with finance matters, and he later took over as chairman. It was a great first experience, the best thing about it was the diversity of experience on the board and it was also enlightening to discover how much work was involved with chairing a board.

Asked what skills were needed to be a good director, Mr Moodie said resilience was important.

"It’s never ending, you just get through something on one board and something crops up on another."

As a chairperson, the ability to get the best out of the others around the board table and ensuring they had a voice was also required.

He attended the recent Institute of Directors conference in Christchurch, attended by about 750 people, and it was a great chance to meet the likes of directors of Air New Zealand and talk to some "fantastic role models".

It could sometimes be lonely on a board and the institute was full of good resources to draw on.

When Jacinta Ruru received an email asking if she would be a director of Te Papa Tongarewa, she did not think it was meant for her. "I didn’t respond, I ignored it completely," she said, laughing.

Once she realised it was indeed an opportunity for her to be on the board of New Zealand’s national museum, she found the offer "hugely exciting".

Distinguished professor Ruru, who has had a high-profile career based in the faculty of law at the University of Otago and was appointed to the new role of deputy vice-chancellor (Māori) earlier this year, has a love of governance.

Her governance career began in her mid-20s. As a law student at Otago, she had volunteered at the Ngāi Tahu Māori Law Centre and when she became an assistant lecturer at the law faculty, she was asked to join the centre’s governance board.

As a first governance experience, she acknowledged it could have been very different but she felt fortunate to have an "incredible" chairman in Darryn Russell and an experienced board and she learned a lot.

Those lessons included the difference between governance and management and she put a lot of time into understanding that difference.

Being so young, Prof Ruru said she did not necessarily appreciate then the incredible opportunity that she had. It set her up for a dual career with her law work at the university and also the opportunity to continue to be involved in governance.

"Governance is amazing.

"It gives you this opportunity to be part of the whole journey of an entity and their aspirations and, particularly at that strategic level, where they want to go to and how to get there."

Chartered fellow Paul Moodie.
Chartered fellow Paul Moodie.
Other governance opportunities arose including the Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust. Governance was just as important at community level as it was for large organisations.

She appreciated how volunteers gave their time, saying it was incredible what was going on around the country and in communities, often alongside struggles to obtain funding.

Her governance career took a "big jump" when she was invited to join the Te Papa board. She remained on that board along with positions with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and the Blue Oyster Art Project Space. She recently came off the Environmental Defence Society.

Agenda items had changed over the years and directors were dealing with the likes of Covid-19, climate change, wellbeing and the financial crisis.

"All of this, we’re in a real pressure cooker," she said.

She felt three positions "feels about right".

"You do have to be passionate about it and it has to make sense in terms of thinking about your governance portfolio.

"It’s got to cohesively make sense and you’ve got to see where you can add your value and what your contribution is at that strategic level and be ready to take responsibility for all components of that."

Prof Ruru believed her governance career had also made her better in terms of her teaching and research roles at the university, saying having the opportunity to step outside of academia complemented those roles, providing access to "incredible people, conversations and strategic positioning of entities".

Now she was back in a strategic role, reporting to a board, which she was really enjoying, and her governance work had really helped in that transition.

Her involvement with the Institute of Directors ramped up when she decided she wanted to make an investment in her governance and learning. She praised the organisation’s work, saying it did an "incredible" job throughout the country, both at branch and national level.

Institute of Directors Otago-Southland branch chairwoman Trish Oakley said the recent presentation was always a highlight in the branch calendar, celebrating its newest members and fellows, and the committee congratulated the pair.