A discussion group like no other

  • Date:01 Nov 2012
  • Type:Company Director Magazine
Our Director Nexus groups provide a forum where you can seek perspective and opinions on a wide range of boardroom issues from your peers.

What do directors most need? This was a question Rob Gerrand FAICD found hard to answer until he became part of a Director Nexus group.

"Then I realised that what most directors need is a space where they can talk about issues they can’t talk about anywhere else," says Gerrand, who has been chairman of his Director Nexus group since its pilot program in 2010.

Director Nexus is a dynamic experience. The member-exclusive peer-group discussions provide a forum where directors can seek perspective and opinions on a wide range of boardroom issues and take away practical guidance to assist their boards and their continuing learning and development over the course of a year.

Following a successful run since its inception in Victoria in 2009, the Director Nexus program will be rolled out to our members in ACT, NSW, Queensland and South Australia. The Tasmania Division will also continue to deliver a pilot version of the program.

Nexus groups comprise 10 to 12 members, meeting regularly to share experiences of directorship and discuss issues arising in boardrooms, as well issues of the day, in a confidential environment. Facilitated by an experienced chairman, the groups share knowledge and exchange feedback and advice to assist participants to be the best directors possible.

Jan Begg FAICD, managing director of Azulin and non-executive director (NED) of City West Water, Royal District Nursing Service and South Eastern Melbourne Medicare Local, joined a Nexus group after attending the International Company Directors Course in Hong Kong in 2009.

For Begg, Director Nexus seemed a natural extension of the in-depth networking with fellow directors she experienced during the course.

"Nexus provides dedicated time to reflect on current and emerging governance challenges away from the specific issues of my own boards and in the delightful company of my fellow Nexus members.

"Every meeting we look at a topic in depth, with one of our group or an invited guest leading the discussion. Recent highlights include the sharing of knowledge on risk management, debt financing, CEO recruitment, IT governance and internal audit. Nexus has exceeded my expectations, in no small part thanks to our chairman, John Vines, who has a dedication to developing our craft."

Anne Ward FAICD, chairman of Qantas Superannuation and a director of the Foundation for Imaging Research, recently became chairman of a Nexus group and has found the experience rewarding and intellectually stimulating, and a perfect forum within which to share knowledge, road test ideas and engage in frank and topical discussion.

"As a first-time Nexus chairman with a new group, I believed my principal challenge was to create an environment where all members of the group were engaged and included and felt confident to speak openly and frankly. I thought the best way to do this was to be very clear from the outset about the group’s objectives and then to be very open in sharing some of my experiences as a director," she says.

"From our first meeting in February 2012, my group has had extremely open and wide-ranging discussions, covering topics such as board assessment and director evaluations, ethics in the boardroom, crisis management and dealing with the media, Blue Ocean Strategy and the future of directorship.

"Fundamental to making the program work is that each group builds a relationship of trust and respect where members are comfortable sharing their experiences openly and frankly. For Nexus members, joining a group involves making a commitment to engage openly, participate and respect the confidentiality of the forum."

Similarly, John Vines OAM FAICD says the key to a successful Nexus group is "the preparedness of members to share their experiences and insights in an open manner with the group and for members to be respectful of the variety of opinions around the group".

"It has been very interesting to observe the development of individuals in the group and the development of their NED careers," says Vines.

"With each meeting, the dynamics of the group and the preparedness to exchange views increased. This occurred quite rapidly and after about three meetings the discussion was as if we had known each other for some time.

"It was also interesting how some members used the group to work through some particular issues they have in their board roles. This provided a great opportunity to learn from one another and also test some ideas on how best to address the issues raised by the member. At the subsequent meeting, we were all keen to hear how members got on with the matters we had discussed."

For Ward, part of the success of a Nexus group lies in the diversity of the membership, which can include directors from various industries and from commercial, government and not-for-profit enterprises.

"This diversity is reflected in the broad range of opinions and views expressed each month and the richness of our discussions," she says.

Gerrand agrees. "Director Nexus brings a diversity of directors around the table who, as trust is built, share experiences they normally can’t discuss," he says.

"I expected to see a director from a not-for-profit take notes when the chairman of a listed company made a suggestion about how to handle a difficult problem, but I didn’t expect to see the reverse – the experienced listed chairman listen and take notes from the younger and less experienced not-for-profit director. But this is the norm. The result is everyone learns from each other.

"There’s nothing like sharing a problem to discover you are not alone. This builds personal confidence to keep doing one of the hardest of a director’s jobs: to ask awkward and dumb questions.

"Once trust is established, we are all peers, no matter the age, gender or experience."

Nexus has proven invaluable in its potential to enhance professional development for participants and chairmen alike, building confidence, improving general governance skills and enabling group members to be far better contributors and more effective directors on their own boards.

Participating in the program for the last three years has allowed Begg to realise her director experience was substantial and transferable. "It gave me the confidence to put myself forward for new board and committee roles that previously I would not have considered. The material and discussions are a great addition to my information store and the meetings create a time to reflect on items of interest in the news as well as emerging issues."

As a group chairman, Ward believes she has enhanced her skills in this role and has built relationships with a wider network of peers in the director community.

"I look forward to our monthly meetings as I never fail to come away with a new idea or way of approaching an issue... There have been many valuable moments, but I particularly enjoy hearing members of the group say: ‘What a great idea, I can use that.’ In our group, that seems to happen at least once at every meeting."

Gerrand says: "I think the most valuable aspects of Nexus are the continuous learning about good governance the meetings provide, the understanding you gain of how good boards should work and really understanding what is not acceptable board behaviour.

"It has shown me that if you can get on your own board the energy we get in our Nexus group, you will get a superior-performing board."

The Director Nexus program will be available in Victoria, ACT, Queensland, SA and NSW in 2013. The Tasmania Division will continue to deliver a pilot version of the program.

Complimentary, member-only Director Nexus information evenings will be held in November 2012 in the following locations:

  • Adelaide – 1 November
  • Brisbane – 14 November
  • Melbourne – 22 November
  • Sydney – 28 November

To register your interest, or to find out more about the Director Nexus program, please call your local office or visit our website at: www.companydirectors.com.au/directornexus