Building governance skills and networks


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Caroline RobertsonCaroline Robertson was already on the board of the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) when she saw an advertisement for the Institute of Directors’ (IoD’s) Emerging Director Award.

The Central Hawke’s Bay veterinarian had done the IoD’s Company Directors’ Course, but wanted to broaden her governance education and experience and to build her network.  “Living in Waipukurau, the networking opportunities are not as great as if you live somewhere like Auckland or Wellington. I really saw the Emerging Director Award as a networking opportunity and an opportunity to expand my skillset.”

 As the Wellington branch winner of the Emerging Director Award in 2014, Robertson received a one-year membership with the IoD, money towards professional development courses and also spent a year as an observer on the Port of Napier board. She says the board members who mentored her during the year have continued to be valuable ongoing sources of support and help. “They’ve often given me advice on certain things I’ve come across, issues that require a little bit of broader thinking. It’s been great to be able to run some things by them, including when I was doing a CEO search for the New Zealand Veterinary Association. To be able to just work through that process with someone who has had a lot of experience in CEO recruitment was fantastic.”

"I really saw the Emerging Director Award as a networking opportunity and an opportunity to expand my skillset.”

During her observation year with the Port of Napier, Robertson also sat on their health and safety committee and their audit and risk committee. “That was great exposure in all of those areas. I think if you’re an observer on a board, it’s fantastic if they allow you to do that.”

Although the industry was outside of her area of expertise, Robertson says she learnt a lot about good governance. “I learnt a lot about people skills, which is really the core of everything. And really just doing the work, setting up meetings to make sure you get great interactions with other directors and good outcomes.”

She says the Emerging Directors experience gave her good insights into governance systems, processes and how to structure meetings. “Things like getting the most out of our meeting papers. We should be there to give direction to management and we need the right information to be able give that direction, so I question all the documents now: do they actually lead to a decision or are they just padding out the board papers?”

Robertson is now the immediate past President and Chair of the NZVA. She still sits on the NZVA board and its audit and risk committee.  She also chairs her veterinary business. “It’s a big business, employing 40 veterinarians plus supporting staff across five clinics. I chair the main business, which is Veterinary Services Hawke’s Bay and I am on the board of Vet Services Dannevirke and chair Vet Services Wairarapa. “

Good governance also extends to her family farming business, which she says has “an active governance structure” with formal board meetings and minutes.

Ultimately, Robertson says good governance comes down to focusing on people. “Because wherever you’re working, it’s people first and everything else works out after that, but if you get the people wrong, you can’t get anything else right.”