Board Level
1 - Sally Evans on taking the first steps in your board career
Nov 11, 2019 · 29 min
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Sally Evans FAICD is on the boards of ASX200 Healthcare provider Healius, New Zealand retirement village operator Oceania Healthcare and chair of social enterprise LifeCircle Australia. In 2018, she was one of the Australian Financial Review's 100 Women of Influence.

Here Sally talks about how she got started in her director career, what she would have done differently and her advice for those looking to step up to the boardroom.

Valuable Discussion Points 

[01:26] Why did Sally decide to become a non-executive director (NED)?

Transitioning from a director of an aged care facility to a non-executive on a multitude of different boards, Sally wanted to be on the side that made decisions.  Already involved in aspects of Non-Executive Director processes, Sally was interested in organisational structure, culture and how this affected the movement of people and ideas within a business 

[03:41] In hindsight, what does Sally believe she could have done differently? 

Sally regrets not having a director mentor in her development phase, as they’re crucial in providing a reference for opportunities and honest feedback. She also wishes she got in front of more boards she really wanted to be a part of, and once she was, she was confident, prepared and clear in her approach and purpose.

[07:18] Difference between being a NED and a part of the management team?

Taking nearly a full year cycle of boardroom meetings developing relationships and skills, Sally adopted a mindset of always trying to ask the most important questions and allowing the management team to answer and discuss freely. 

[13:14] When is it the right time to make the transition to a board level position, such as a NED? 

Never a perfect time, Sally acknowledges she should of,  and could have, transitioned sooner. Building her expertise over her career she leveraged this along with a strong support and structure into a board level position. The process is tenuous, she admits, taking Sally just on two years, but recommends it as a necessary step for true leaders and directors. 

[18:46] What are some other key challenges Sally has faced?

Sally believes that one of the toughest challenges during this transition is recognising how self-disciplined you need to be. It truly a one-woman business, being a NED, you have no singular goal or task, rather you coordinate your workload based on the types and styles of boards you’re a part of.

[26:00] Is Sally noticing any changes in board diversity?

Sally believes that she left it far too long and aims to instill confidence in eager women and men that approach her about the transition into board level. She also appreciates the mentoring she received during her transition and seeks to provide individuals similar to herself, wisdom and advice regarding opportunities within boards.

Key Learnings 

  • Governance comes from a curiosity to understand the processes and structure of an organisation and how each individual affects these processes.
  • Get in front of the right people, because it’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.
  • You only get one opportunity. So, be confident, prepared and clear about why you’re there. 
  • Never ask anyone to put you on their board – make them need you on their board.
  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • As a NED, you need to know the right questions to ask, being a part of a management team, you need to know the right answers. 
  • Don’t undermine the executive’s opinion, offer constructive guidance and input.
  • Being a NED means you’re a business of one, you must be extremely self-disciplined and managed.
  • Be an active listener.
  • The most important person you’ll get to know is the chair/s of your board.

Quotable Quotes 

“It’s not about who you know, it’s who knows you” – Sally Evans

“I think I left it too late. I think I could have done this five years earlier than I actually did … I just didn’t feel quite confident enough. So, I would urge people to find those mentors, get that feedback and ask them to help them determine when the right time is to make that transition” – Sally Evans 

“When you’re a Non-Executive Director, you’re essentially a business of one” – Sally Evans

“As a director you have to listen, be curious, observe things and just keeping quiet long enough to really understand what management was saying. That was a skill I needed to learn” – Sally Evans 

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.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, Catherina 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 connecting with Sally or viewing her professional portfolio and achievements, visit her LinkedIn via https://www.linkedin.com/in/sally-l-evans/?originalSubdomain=au.

For more information regarding Sally Evans, please view her biography referenced on Healius, one of many companies/institutions she represents as a NED https://www.healius.com.au/about-us/our-board-members/ms-sally-evans/

The Board Level podcast is produced by Nicole Hatherly, recorded at RadioHub Studios with post production by Cooper Silk, Iain Wilson and Matthew Lane. 

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