Company director

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Richard, early 50s

How did you become a company director?

Richard's voice has the ring of confidence, which is an asset in his line of work. As a company director, along with the board, he's responsible to the company's shareholders. So he must be well-informed, trustworthy and diligent, and be able to choose a good management team. "The key thing is to have real experience and success in business. Boards of directors want skills and knowledge to be able to shape policy and strategy - and also networks of contacts, to a degree," says Richard.

The best opportunities will go to those who have proven themselves in their chosen career. "If you're the best in your field, you'll find that board positions open up," he says.

But Richard says he's unusual, in that he gained his experience mainly on the job. "Most company directors would do law or finance or commerce [at uni] and have probably gone to the right school and work in a large law or accounting or stockbroking or investment firm." Instead of taking the typical path, Richard went straight into business. "I was managing people from in my early twenties. That's one of the key skills that's required for a director."

What sort of skills and qualities do you need?

 Richard says the prejudice against people without degrees persists, especially in government boards. "When it's discovered you don't have a degree, you're crossed off the list, even though along the way I developed skills and knowledge other people didn't have."

Richard did complete the company directors' diploma course at the University of New England, which he found "boring but useful". This involved studying legal issues, human resources, industrial relations issues and corporate law, and is "almost a prerequisite" now for becoming a company director. And he says getting a second degree or an MBA (Master of Business Administration) doesn't hurt.

And in terms of personal qualities? "In this day and age, with the scrutiny that there is, an unblemished record, integrity and honesty is important," says Richard. It takes time to build up that level of maturity, expertise and credibility, not to mention the essential networks of contacts, and most people are headhunted for company director jobs.

"You normally don't apply, you get asked," says Richard. It's not like there's a whole bunch of jobs available on Seek." Most career movement comes from your track record in previous positions, and your network's recommendations.

What does a typical working day involve?

The work itself can be demanding, depending on how many boards you're on. Richard will read between 20 and 200 pages of documents for the monthly meetings. "You've got to read all that and prepare questions for [the management team]." Meetings can go anywhere from two to eight hours. "They can be very tiring," Richard states dryly. The CEO (chief executive officer) will present a review of how the business is going. The CFO (chief financial officer) will go through the numbers - the balance sheet, profit and loss, cash flow and capital expenditure budget - "and there'll be a lot of discussion about the financials". The meeting will also discuss business development, whether more money needs to be raised from the share market, and the human resources situation (hiring and firing).

"You've got to love numbers," Richard points out. "And you've got to be pretty shrewd. The job of the board is to keep the management team honest." And if they aren't performing honestly, you'll need to find a new team.

But the high point is seeing shareholders getting good returns on their investment, "because that's your primary responsibility." He also enjoys seeing companies develop, not just their assets but their staff. "I'm unusual in that I take the risk of going onto smaller company boards, which is riskier but the satisfaction is greater, to see them grow and develop and achieve their potential."

Find out more about a career business management

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