Board Level
3 - Louise Thurgood Phillips on getting across your value proposition
Nov 18, 2019 · 21 min
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Louise is on the boards of Advance, an organisation connecting Australians around the world, HVAC solutions provider Orion Mechanical Services and chair of Hanrob Pet Hotels. In her executive career, she worked in banking, finance and infrastructure at Macquarie Bank, Deutsche Bank and Babcock & Brown.

Here she talks about the search process for boards, how to navigate the system and avoiding 'imposter syndrome'.

Valuable Discussion Points

[01:35] How did Louise approach search consultants and appointments to position herself on boards?

When beginning her career as a NED, Louise was eager to justify her seat and prove her intellect at any turn, suffering from what she believed was ‘imposter syndrome’. Regretting this, she learnt to be honest with search firms and develop transparent and genuine relationships so they work with you in establishing a proposition value for all future board opportunities.

[03:05] What does the search process actually involve when attempting to find a board that suits you?

There’s multiple ways in which you may go through the process into becoming a board member, regardless, Louise believes it comes down to your network and the ability you have to communicate with them about your positioning.

[05:31] When interviewing with a chair or director board, how did/do you learn from those experiences?

Louise believes that the interviewing process is like a ‘dance’, and you have to be relaxed in order for them to see your skills and preparation. Not only are the firms interviewing you, but you’re interviewing them, therefor, highlighting your proposition value so that both sides can benefit from the relationship.

[06:19] Do you speak with current chair and directors and do they give you advice on where you can add value?

Louise is in constant communication regarding her value and ability to leverage her skills to optimize productivity. Operating within risk and complex organisational situations, Louise maintains this communication to ensure clarity in her proposition and decision making values.

[07:39] What are some reassurances that you look for as a prospective board member?

Louise utilises her deep insight and research capabilities to accumulate knowledge, that assisted by her networks, give her the best opportunity to understand board dynamics and the role/position she would be given within a board structure.

[09:39] What are some of the positive and challenging aspects of looking to join a prospective board?

Developing a strategy to approach a board is one of the most difficult aspects of the process, and Louise has found that while it pays to be eager, you’re best to develop trusting and genuine relationships with recruiters so that they can communicate your value for you. Louise also recognises the importance of being considered, and knows that while you may not always get the position, if your name is being discussed amongst recruiters then you’re effectively branding yourself.

[11:39] In retrospect are there any boards you’re glad you missed out on?

Louise recounts a situation in which she was in the running for two separate boards and her decision in continuing the process was affected. On one board, Louise was communicated to that she would be entering an industry structure that would soon be disrupted, while the other offered a more comfortable structure she was hesitant in her ability to command the board room with its current members at the time.

[13:44] Do you find that your appointment on boards is through search consultants or other means?

Louise has found that most of her appointments regarding board positions are established through networks and relationships with firms that understand her proposition value. However, she also recognises that certain boards, particularly government related ones, require a more detailed and regulated process of selection, and this is where her experiences and skills are beneficial.

[16:28] What advice would you give someone beginning the search process?

Louise insists that it’s like a date, some are good and some are bad. The most important aspect of learning from these processes is to rely on your network for support and clarity of decisions made by both yourself in the interviewing process and the prospective firm or board.

[15:45] When speaking to emerging board directors, what are some must have pieces of advice you give to them?

Louise attempts to instill an attitude in her young directors that promotes an environment that’s removed from competition and perfection, and allows conversations surrounding mistakes and experiences.

[16:45] Do you observe ‘imposter syndrome’ in other women within the world of directors and boards?

Louise recognises the world she lives in, and that cognitive diversity exists within the professional workplace. Louise believes that more women need to develop their own individual path rather than following the primarily male one that currently exists. Maintaining humility and understanding mistakes and weaknesses is also a strategy that can be used to position your value.

[17:03] What kind of concerns do you believe women have when considering a move into a board career?

Louise believes that the major concerns stem from a narrative developed within the media and promoted by the public, to which women are utilised as ‘scapegoats’, or an excuse for major changes or disruptions experienced within a businesses or organisation. She also recognises the self-doubt that is prevalent and a lack of awareness surrounding positions and roles.

[18:36] What do you see unfolding in the future that can make board careers take the next step in regard to gender equality?

The nuances of board briefs are formed to be non-gender specific, however, Louise believes that they don’t yet consider the historical inequality of the professional environment. Louise believes in establishing better development and opportunities for women and this will continue to grow the ability search firms have to assess directors who meet the requirements.

[19:40] While there are a series of challenges faced through this process, how satisfying can career as a NED be?

Louise has attempted to indulge in diverse boards, full of varying individuals, ideas and experiences, thus, allowing her to position her value to affect numerous facets of public and private spheres. Once you have refined your skills as a director and developed a strong network you’re also given opportunities to affect non for profits or passion related projects/organisations, something that can be spiritually beneficial.

Key Learnings

  • Don’t suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’, firms are looking for all different types of people.
  • There are a multitude of process you can go through to be placed on a board, including;
  1. You’ve been suggested by the chair
  2. You’re the stalking horse yourself.
  3. You’ve been referred by other reputable directors.
  • It’s all about finding your proposition value and communicating this to search consultants.
  • Build trusting and genuine relationships with search firms and networks, you’ll be surprised with the work they’ll do for you.
  • The greatest ability you have as an emerging woman director is assisting in developing an environment that’s removed from competition and rather focuses on conversations that aim to improve.
  • In order to take the next step in regard to gender equality within board positions rets on both a continued development and education of women directors, and boards/search firms ability to recognise the discrepancy that exists within current board briefs relating to historical inequalities prohibiting fair opportunities.

Quotable Quotes

“It’s hard. It’s like being single and dating. Some dates are really good and some dates are awful” – Louise Thurgood commenting on a board search process.

“I think the director journey, it’s a random walk” – Louise Thurgood

“Start to be more relaxed and dance, because you’re actually interviewing them as well” – Louise Thurgood on how to approach interviewing for a board position

“I share with them my mistakes because I think sometimes what happens in this game, particularly for women, we’ve forgotten that one of our greatest strengths is our ability to share our mistakes” – Louise Thurgood

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.companydirectors.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 Louise or viewing her professional portfolio and achievements, visit her LinkedIn via https://www.linkedin.com/in/louise-thurgood-4a61b96a/?originalSubdomain=au.

For more information regarding Louise’s achievements and involvements on various boards, organisations and industries view her biography as referenced on Advance, an Government funded initiative that connects Australians globally, https://www.advance.org/louise-thurgood.

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

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