In this interview series, we take a look at life as a ‘non traditional’ board member and the benefits they bring to boards and organisations.
Today we are profiling Gemma West. Gemma is bucking the boardroom age trend as a young powerhouse who uses her unique blend of education and professional work achievements to be a valuable director. She certainly has me inspired!
Get on Board Australia (GOBA): What board(s) do you sit on?
Gemma West (GW): I currently sit on the board of the Concordia Foundation. Previously I was on the Board of the Australian Land Management Group.
GOBA: What is unique about you as a board member?
GW: I have a non-traditional technical background (winemaker), and have since completed a MBA and am a GAICD. I still work in the wine industry as my main profession. I am also relatively young compared to many directors.
GOBA: How did you get your board seat?
GW: I applied through a process (using phone and email) to my first Board, which was the Concordia Foundation, in 2010. When I arrived in person, it was evident that the Executive Officer was surprised how young I was. I have also sat on the Board of the Australian Land Management Group. For this one, I also applied and was accepted through a competitive process. My background in agriculture helped here.
GOBA: How does your uniqueness benefit the board / organisation?
GW: I have ‘coalface’ operational experience and have spent the past four years in a change management and business improvement position, completing strategic projects for a listed wine company. Often Board members have a legal, financial or marketing background, and many CEOs have a background in sales and marketing, or the technical area of their company’s products or services.
I bring uniqueness in my ability to understand how Board-level decisions may impact the day-to-day operations of the company, morale of its staff, speed to market and process flow from product conception to distribution. I also have a strong background in data-driven decision-making, including how to effectively collect data and use systems that can auto-generate real-time information for management decision-making from this data. Many times, companies find they have a lot of data, but not much information.
GOBA: What has your experience on a board been like? Do you feel that your differences are a benefit or a hindrance?
GW: I have had really positive experiences. I felt at the beginning of my tenure that other Board members may have thought that what I had to offer would be limited, particularly when they discovered my background was in winemaking. Once they got to know me, and I contributed to Boardroom discussions, I felt this dissipated rapidly. I have found that my skills are unique on the boards I have sat on, and my contribution adds to the tapestry of experience and skill sets. I have become the subject matter expert for the Board in some of my areas of experience.
GOBA: What advice would you give to people in a similar situation to you?
GW: I would recommend that people don’t question their skills, experience or demographic when considering what they can contribute to the Boardroom. Board diversity is exactly what is needed to facilitate robust and constructive discussion. It may take some time to achieve your first Board position, but every application and interview process helps your learning. It’s also helpful to get some advice on your Board CV versus your professional CV – they are quite different.
You can find Gemma on LinkedIn.
ABOUT CHANGING THE FACE OF THE BOARDROOM
Many times I am told by aspiring board members that they feel like they are not qualified for the boardroom, or that they have nothing to offer. Much of this self-opinion comes from the perception that is reinforced in messages about the boardroom; you have to be old, connected, conservative, and extremely educated to be on a board.
I call BS on this!
I am certain that there are many wonderful board members out there who don’t fit the traditional “pale and stale” stereotype of company directors / board members. People who came to the boardroom along the path less travelled, with a unique career background or because of some rare characteristic that has proved invaluable for an organisation.
I know they’re out there and I want to profile them to show aspiring directors that they do have something to offer. That the boardroom is somewhere they can thrive and give back; and that their uniqueness can have extraordinary value to an organisation. I want organisations and people everywhere to know it too.
READ OTHER CHANGING THE FACE OF THE BOARDROOM PROFILES
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