A conversation with Rob Campbell – Director & Chair to a host of New Zealand organisations. I recently had the pleasure to meet Rob, at Sky City where he has recently taken on a Directorship position. A man who I have only recently got to know but already enjoy his company. As I continue to coach a number of individuals who are stepping into their first Directorship position, we hope that this candid and open conversation gives you some further insight into “the unknown and often unheralded world” sit back, grab a coffee and enjoy.
NR: For those readers who are not familiar with you, tell us a little about yourself Rob?
RC: I am a company director and investor based in Auckland. The trajectory of my working life goes from university economics to union research and advocacy to economic consultancy and family office management to the present role which covers the last decade or so.
NR: What do you do with your spare time to re energise?
RC: I am fully engaged by the work I do, it tires and re-energises me equally. I read widely for insight and pleasure. Otherwise it is family time.
NR: Your best friend, how would he/she describe you to me?
RC: First find the friend ! I guess my wife Judi would say I work hard, am an introvert and while I care about people find mixing with them tough.
NR: What got you thinking about taking on your first Board position?
RC: There was no thinking or deliberate intention. I stumbled into the roles.
NR: Why did you take on your first Board role?
RC: Each one has been because it was suggested to me or offered and I thought “Why not ? That sounds pretty interesting”.
NR: Where was your first Board appointment and what was the process to being appointed?
RC: It really all started with Roger Douglas wanting to appoint Ron Brierley to the board of the BNZ and to get it through the Labour caucus added me as a quinella bet.
NR: How do individuals find out about a board positions?
RC: Hopefully in a more systematic and considered way than I have. Most often a person is approached by an existing director or a search agent. Some are publicly advertised or on various bulletin boards.
NR: Honestly, on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being not scared at all – 10 being oh, my lord what am I meant to do here) where you when taking on that first appointment?
RC: Not remotely scared, possibly because I knew so little about what was involved.
NR: During our catch up, you mentioned to me why reading, keeping up to date, meeting different people really helps you. I am in the middle of reading a book on “how to stop spending time with people you don’t want to”. Fascinating insight! But in the early stages, how did you go about learning the “way to work with Boards, people and organisations?
RC: It was a matter of looking and listening. I tried to understand the economics of each business, compared incessantly with other businesses which were alike. Not afraid to question why structures and policies were as they were.
NR: In your words, what does it mean to hold a Board position?
RC: It is a great opportunity to learn, to grow and to contribute to a business. A great responsibility to stakeholders. A privilege.
NR: What do you feel are the pros and cons of taking on this responsibility?
RC: The biggest pro is the opportunity it gives to learn and to contribute. Many people do not get this opportunity in their working life. I can’t think of a con really – I take the view that if I am not fitting for any reason then I can just move on.
NR: How, have you taught yourself to be “in the moment”?
RC: I think a lot about the main issues facing the business and any meeting. Do not worry much about the lesser issues as I see them. Have confidence in my judgement and openness to being wrong without being bad.
NR: When we talk and hear about preparation, preparing yourself to do something never done before, what has helped you to prepare for the unknown? And also, what has not helped you to prepare?
RC: I am a quick reader and thinker. That is the good side. Sometimes I reach conclusions too quickly and without depth. I am working hard on the latter and getting better.
NR: Has there been a “best” board or group you have worked with? If so, what did you learn from working with these people?
RC: No special one stands out. There are some I enjoy more than others in the sense of fun but others I enjoy for the battle of ideas.
NR: What in your view is the future responsibilities of our Boards?
RC: For boards to become leaders and visionaries working with the business and stakeholders, not just monitors or controllers.
NR: With so much technology apparently taking over positions, I heard recently that by 2030 there will be only 6 Accountants in New Zealand! How will technology support or hinder Boards?
RC: Technology will streamline reporting and structuring of decisions. This will open up much time and brain space for more creative director thinking.
NR: When an individual is contemplating or considering taking on a Board position, what do you feel are the important steps in considering to apply?
RC: Are you really challenged and excited by this opportunity and this business. Do you really want to contribute or is it just a paragraph on a CV to nowhere ?
NR: Your CV, your profile, your accomplishments, your failing, all make us what we are and hopefully a better person – what qualities makes a person “board ready” and are there any significant barriers to entry?
RC: There are barriers to entry, often in the limited imagination of incumbent directors. You are board ready if you have business experience, good literacy and numeracy, an open and inquiring mind, good communication skills and luck.
NR: So, you have landed your first Board position – what emotions, feelings do you feel this person might be facing and do you have any thoughts on how to help them?
RC: Just be excited, challenged, grateful for the opportunity, and open minded about the process.
NR: How do you balance your “family, friends, work, time for yourself, keeping up to date, holidays, travel, etc”?
RC: Very badly.
NR: Whose council do you seek for help and advice?
RC: I don’t have a single source. I have learned that I learn best by listening and thinking about a very wide range of ideas, seeking out those which stretch and challenge me.
NR: How has not being successful in applying to a Board positon helped you grow?
RC: I have had a very lucky run. I might be better if I had failed more often.
NR: Finally, and I really appreciate your insight and views on everything we have talked about today, it has been honest and refreshing conversation. What are the benefits to an individual who is embarking on their first Board position?
RC: Well there are faster and more effective ways to get rich but none I have found to gain a sincere and broad appreciation of how business works.
Thank you, Rob, for taking the time to go with me on this short journey, to explore and discuss some important points that I really hope will help our readers. Above all thank you for sharing your personal thoughts.
Both Rob and I hope it has given you some useful insight.
Look after yourself, Nick
Nick Roud – Career Coach
Roud Career Coaching