A learning curve

A Chartered accountant, Rachel Farrant says that a career in governance was a natural progression.

Rachel Farrant
JOHN NICHOLSON/Fairfax

“A lot of accountants want to become directors, and I think we bring good financial and analytical skills to the board table. But just because you’re an accountant doesn’t necessarily make you a good board member, so you’ve got to have broader skills than that.”

As partner at BDO in Wellington, Rachel deals with a diverse range of clients and often attends their board meetings in an advisory capacity.

“So that’s where I got started. And I had also had voluntary positions on not-for-profit boards over the years, and they were good stepping stones.”  

With these experiences on her CV, Rachel joined the board of Central Netball Regions Ltd - known to netball fans as the Central Pulse - and then Fulton Hogan, Kordia, and the Wellington Museums Trust.

She says the most challenging aspects of the transition were refraining from delving into the detail - the antithesis of her role as an accountant - and coming up to speed with the technical aspects of the business.

While she knows more about chip seal and bandwidth than she’d ever have thought she would, there’s still plenty to learn. Once a month, you’ll find her in hi-vis and a hard hat, talking with Fulton Hogan engineers at worksites across the country.

“You’re getting out and meeting the people who are on the ground doing the work, and experiencing the site first-hand helps to really understand the company’s operations.”

She says the senior directors on the Fulton Hogan board have been great sources of governance expertise, as has the mentor she was paired with through the IoD’s Mentoring for Diversity programme. A willingness to learn, she says, is a crucial trait in governance.

“It’s not being afraid to ask other people for advice or assistance. And everybody’s still learning - some of the senior people I’ve worked with are still talking to other people about what they should do. You never stop learning, really.”