Preparing for the day of reckoning

boardroom recently spoke to Chartered Member and IoD Taranaki Branch Committee member Malcolm Sutherland, about his governance journey, taking the step to becoming Chartered and inspiring other directors to do the same.

Malcolm SutherlandMalcolm, an executive director with Blanchard International NZ, has been a member of the IoD for a long time – since 1994 in fact. Having first served on industry boards through the late 1970s and into the ‘80s and worked as an organisational performance consultant since, Malcolm has observed the changes to the IoD, and in the world of governance, with great interest.

“The IoD has changed tremendously and that’s a very big part of the reason why I continue to be a member. It has turned into a very worthwhile, vibrant and professional body. That’s not to say it wasn’t in the early days, but it’s modernised and expanded its capability and services in a very impressive way.”

Malcolm rightly recognises that IoD has changed tremendously since he joined. October 2014 saw the IoD move from a membership organisation to a professional body with the introduction of the Chartered Membership pathway. This was the biggest change in IoD’s history taking professionalism among the wider director community to a new level.

The Chartered Member Assessment (CMA) is the key criterion for entry to the category of Chartered Member. Malcolm is a new Chartered Member, having passed the CMA late last year.

Stakeholders, shareholders and the community expect directors to have the skill and knowledge to fulfil their duties and govern effectively, and the CMA provides assurance that Chartered Members have met standards of knowledge and skill to support them to carry out their duties.

As someone who has gone through the process, Malcolm agrees that it is a robust assessment, and one he prepared for well in advance.

“I think it was very humbling [receiving the Chartered Member designation]. I think it offers one the opportunity to validate one’s knowledge and understanding and experience.

“It was something that I was interested, if not excited to do, from a personal point of view. Part of the reason I joined the IoD was my interest in professional learning, and with the new pathway being designed and promoted, I was inspired from day one to see the content and the criteria.

“In some ways I did it to test myself. I never underestimated it.

“When it was first promoted I thought I might do it but I also thought I might organise myself to do it.”

For Malcolm that meant undertaking the Company Directors’ Course Refresher before taking on the assessment and examination necessary to become Chartered. He organised to attend the CDC Refresher and later cleared his diary for the three weeks given to complete the assessment.

“All nicely planned,” Malcolm says, “but, best laid plans of mice and men…”

Having cleared his schedule for study Malcolm found himself having to undergo surgery in the middle of the assessment process. Reflecting on this, he laughs that his journey to becoming Chartered didn’t quite go as planned but stresses the value of setting a schedule and planning.

“I found it required that I do a lot of reading. In doing the assessment one can have an opinion on certain scenarios, but there are elements of fact that need to be put in and gathering those facts requires study time.

“I would recommend that anyone who is eligible to do it, plan well ahead and set out time to prepare. I was in a position to be able to make it a priority; not everybody might be able, but do so to the best of your ability. Be fair to yourself.”

Taking on the challenge lined up with the values and beliefs Malcolm holds about the importance of getting governance right. He is an advocate for the director profession and is excited to see recognition of the IoD and the importance of good governance growing.

“You can’t do a half-baked job in governance; if we do that it’s going to come back to bite us.”

While said with a smile, the sentiment is serious – the role of a director is important and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It only takes a quick search through a news website to see what can happen to a company when its board is not functioning properly.

“The IoD is a professional body – that’s what I see and that’s what I have an aspiration for on behalf of other directors too – to see their role as a director as a profession, not something that they just clip on.

“Governance is a different skillset to other vocational skillsets so you need to be able to learn it properly, do it properly and professionally. The fact is that IoD is here to offer all the services and help to be able to do that.

“I interact on a daily basis with many who are in governance and accountability positions and aren’t aware of what they carry in terms of those accountabilities. I try and influence them to have a think about IoD membership and the pathway.

“I see the pathway and the direction that the IoD is now taking in the promotion of professionalism in governance. We will see that [lack of awareness] change over time.”

With a lot being said about the importance of diversity on boards, there is also recognition that directors with different backgrounds and levels of experience have different needs. Malcolm believes that directors who are committed to what they do are well backed up by the IoD.

“I’m excited about the IoD nowadays. It’s offering a tremendous service, a tremendous product, a tremendous pathway, and wonderful resources to members.

“It’s expanded its recognition that company directors come in all sorts of forms and shapes – from corporate to major organisations, right down to somebody who starts a business, registers it and all of sudden has all of the accountabilities as a company director that they had never thought about.”

When talking about what is next, Malcolm knows what it is that drives him to continue to develop as a director.

“In my other professional world a lot of what I do is fix-it work. That’s what inspires me because there’s something to work on and you can only do it with a board being in tune, working together, becoming a high performing team as a board with a good strategy.”

Malcolm sees he might have space for one or two more governance roles, having recently accepted a role as trustee and Chair of the Taranaki Rugby Community Trust. Malcolm this year became a member of the IoD Taranaki Branch committee. He sees the branches as playing an essential role in raising awareness about governance and looks forward to assisting with that.

Malcolm jokes that at this point he isn’t building his career, but part of this is related to his commitment to doing right as a director and seeking quality over quantity.

“I think quality has to be a huge focus and that means putting the time into every single organisation that we have a governance duty to. It’s about making a contribution where I can and where it seems purposeful to do.”

As the conversation comes to a close Malcolm ponders another of the reasons he is so passionate about governance and why he strongly believes that directors need to take it seriously.

“Good governance can only be a good thing for the whole country at all levels.

“As directors we have our day of reckoning,” he says with a smile.

“It’s only going to be a good day or a bad day; there are not many shades in between, so we may as well make it a good day!”

Find out more about how to become a Chartered Member