Obituary Vale Claudia Jane Walton

  • Date:01 Oct 2013
  • Type:Company Director Magazine
12 August 1956 - 10 September 2013

Anyone who has participated in  Company Directors’ courses will know Jane Walton. If you don’t know her by name, you will have benefited from her prodigious work in Australian corporate governance.

Born and raised in the NSW country town of Narrandera, she excelled at Sydney University Law School and entered private legal practice.

But the values instilled by her country upbringing of honesty, compassion, hard work and service to community meant private practice would not for long satisfy her hunger to make a significant difference.

Her first outlet was as a founding member of the St James Ethics Centre where she honed her governance values, sowing the seeds of her career in ethics and corporate governance.

In 2003, when Company Directors was revising its courses and teaching approach, an astute employee suggested contact should be made with Jane. We are all richer for that referral.

A woman of deft touch, tremendous intellect, compassionate insight and gentle humour, Jane refashioned the approach taken to governance learning in Australia.

She generously contributed to the designing, writing and renovating of many courses and modules, including the Company Directors Course, the International Company Directors Course, the Company Directors Course Update, Mastering the Boardroom and In Boardroom programs.

When reflecting on her body of work with Company Directors, Jane was most proud of her design of the decision-making module (fundamental to effective corporate governance), her publication Guide for Directors and Boards, which is distributed to every course participant and all new Company Directors members, and that, at an early stage, Company Directors was open to raising the importance of decision-making in effective corporate governance.

One particular slide she wrote over 10 years ago, which is still used today by facilitators, speaks to Jane’s universal truth – that ethics and ethical behaviour should guide all our actions personally and throughout organisations.

Jane’s approach to design and facilitation of courses was one of total commitment.

She challenged groups and individuals to consider a different perspective; she prompted robust discussion and questioned the status quo.

She approached facilitation of Company Directors groups and programs as she did life – as a learning experience.

Jane derived her greatest unofficial Company Directors joy from facilitation, particularly of Mastering the Boardroom where, harnessing her intellect and innate ability to understand human behaviour, she would unleash her infectious energy and enormous enthusiasm in full dramatic style.

Who will ever forget Jane’s many wild and provocative characters that she invented to terrorise and delight her course participants?

There was the crazy, hard-left environmentalist blockading the AGM (Jane was gleefully “arrested” by hotel staff – at her request), the fifth-generation dairy farmer dressing down the dairy company board for not “loving the cows enough” and the show-stopping CEO who dies mid-board meeting (Jane belatedly realised there was no graceful exit so she crawled out of sight).

I had the privilege of being Jane’s fellow facilitator and, more recently, Jane’s business partner in The Walton Group.

I saw, first hand, Jane applying her knowledge and talents with generosity and deep understanding to companies, their boards and executives who were struggling with difficult issues.

Jane was never a person to shy away from a hard battle if the outcome was worthwhile.

Despite her work often heralding necessary and significant change in the organisations and boards with which we worked, even if they didn’t like it at the time, each was strengthened as a result of her advice.

Jane was my teacher, my ethical compass, my business partner and my friend. We shared board reviews and evaluations, facilitations, a taste for champagne, trips to the DJ’s pantyhose department and a deep, values-based friendship.

The country girl from Narrandera High has left us with a rich legacy.

Put simply, she has been taken away too early from her husband Matthew, her children Edwina and James, her family and friends, and before her work was done.

Her legacy is that the effect of her work, values, personality and friendships will continue long after we are all gone.

Fiona Shand FAICD