Our website uses cookies to give you the best possible experience and to help us understand how our site is being used. By using this website you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Paul Bingham: The need to look forward has never been more important for directors

By Institute of Directors
9 Jan 2020
Paul Bingham

Paul Bingham CMInstD has a diverse background in travel, tourism and technology. Paul was chair of Canterbury Tourism and helped guide the Christchurch tourism industry through the 2011 earthquake recovery. He was appointed as Air New Zealand’s youngest ever director at the age of 39. He is now chair of the tech company Shuttlerock and of his family business, Black Cat Cruises. He is a director for Ngai Tahu Tourism and ChristchurchNZ, an organisation that represents the interests of tourism, economic development and international education in the Canterbury region. We spoke with Paul about some of his proudest achievements, his views on the challenges facing directors and what he enjoys most about being a Chartered Member of the IoD.

Tell us a little bit more about yourself

Career wise, I started at ‘A’ in the book and never got any further - advertising, airlines, attractions and apps. I’ve lived in the UK, USA, Asia and NZ. I’ve got four wonderful and different children aged 5, 8, 18 and 20 who keep it real. We’ve got Gen X, Y, Z and A in the household!

Tell us about the boards where you are involved in and what you enjoy most about their work.

I’m the Chair of mobile-first creative company Shuttlerock and Black Cat Cruises and a director of Ngai Tahu Tourism and ChristchurchNZ. I’m also a trustee of the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust and the Christchurch Foundation. Without doubt, the most enjoyable part of being on boards is the chance to work with a group of outstanding and inspiring people, both fellow directors and the CEOs and management teams of the organisations I’m involved with.

Tell us about some of your proudest achievements from your career in governance/business.

I was very proud to have been appointed as the youngest ever director of Air New Zealand and as Chair of Canterbury Tourism - to have guided the Christchurch visitor industry through the earthquake aftermath of 2011. Starting and growing tech company, Shuttlerock, has been a highlight, winning the 2016 Facebook global innovation award along the way. Finally, leading and growing our family business Black Cat Cruises over 20 years is very rewarding.

What skills, experience and abilities do you think are important for a director?

Obviously you need to have bandwidth (time) and passion for the companies you’re involved with. A broad base of experience is useful because you tend to be presented with and need to understand a broad range of issues. The best decisions are made when a director understands the moving parts and potential impacts across the whole business. Personally I think someone on the board also needs a deep understanding of what’s driving the customer too (see blog Paul wrote on this).

What do you think is the biggest challenge for directors?

The biggest issue is deciding what to focus on with the increase in workload and expectations. Directors need to understand what’s coming around the corner in the years to come and then also deal with today’s compliance issues (such as health and safety).

Keeping a firm eye on the customer and customer experience is a key role of directors. It’s easy for the voice to be lost in a sea of board papers. Finally, the pace of technology means directors need to understand and embrace technical innovation. Given the above statement about broad skill bases, this is a real challenge for most directors. I think we will see more innovation committees. The need to look forward has never been as important for directors.

What are you passionate about outside of your governance work?

Sports-wise, its golf, snowboarding and swimming. I’ve spent much of the last 18 months working with government, stakeholders and partners to get better protection for Hector’s dolphins (watch this short video about this project). As a father of four children I’m passionate about preserving nature for future generations.

What do you enjoy most about being a Chartered Member of IoD?

It’s about the ability to swap stories and to keep up to speed on the latest issues. I’ve always found it’s great to be able to apply lessons from one sector to another and take the best/worst of a certain situation and apply those lessons elsewhere.

What do you do to keep on top of your game?

Having some time away is important to get perspective and to take your mind off things. I do ocean swimming and swam across Akaroa Harbour recently. To keep up with the latest business trends, I read a lot of books and listen to a lot of podcasts.

What particular IoD courses did you find really helpful? Why?

I find the IoD leadership conference good, especially to hear war stories and of course catch up fellow directors. Being a director can sometimes be lonely as you end up spending a lot of time reading papers, so it’s great to be able to interact with like-minded humans.

What advice would you give to directors who are starting out in their governance career?

Some of the best advice I got at the beginning are:

“Spend at least the same amount of time preparing as you spend in the meeting itself.”

“Profit is a figment of an accountant’s imagination (ie. follow the cash).”

“Don’t leave a question unanswered, someone else is bound to be thinking it. But to counter that, it’s not an open invite to ask anything and everything that pops into your head!

“You don’t have to contribute everywhere, especially when you are starting out.”