You Don’t Have to be Elite to Get into the Boardroom

If there was an award in my high school for “the person least likely to succeed” I would have been a very strong contender. I hated school. I thought that because I struggled it meant that I was not smart (I later learned that the face-to-face learning style is not my preference). I was also going through a bit of a teenage depression and lost myself a little throughout my senior years of high school (quite frankly I was out of control).

Fast-forward about 15 years and here I am now; sitting on five boards and running a business developing new and aspiring company directors and board members. My journey here has taught me that you don’t have to be an elite or a special type of person to forge a successful board career.

In fact, I am quite the opposite. Here is my story from Blacktown to the boardroom…

I came from very humble beginnings. My parents divorced when I was 13, leaving my mum to work three jobs to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table (my dad helped too). I had a public school education and lived all of my childhood in Blacktown.

I had an epiphany in year 11 that I wanted to be in ‘business’ – it was a real light-bulb moment for me that I still remember vividly to this day. Unfortunately my genius insight came too late and I was unable to change my senior high-school subjects to allow me to get a university admission score. Defiantly I plodded along for the last 18 months of high school, at one stage having the equivalent of a month off school over the course of two terms.

Thankfully I applied for and received an apprenticeship in fitness the year after graduating, beating over 100 applicants for the job. This was my start in the fitness industry; however, after about two years, I quickly realised it was an industry I didn’t want to be in for a number of reasons.

So I went back to my original plan. I got a job in the professional world as an Executive Assistant for a small family-owned business. Whilst I was working I studied for a Certificate IV in Business Management via TAFE distance education. I used my distinction grade and a letter of recommendation from my boss to get into university – a huge feat in my immediate family (only the second person to do so).

I found that I did indeed have an academic streak in me and I achieved my bachelor of business (business management and marketing) via distance education with a credit average. Most of my study was done on the train during my daily 5-hour commute from the NSW Central Coast to work in North Sydney.

One of my hobbies at this time was doing triathlons. To give back to this great sport, I put my hand up for Vice President of Central Coast Triathlon Club and served in this role for 12 months. As you can see, boards featured strongly early on in my career.

By the time I graduated from university, I had moved to Adelaide and was a freelance marketing consultant. During this time I was playing soccer and sitting on the board of my local club.

My marketing qualification, experience, and active work got me appointed on two ‘proper’ boards about 12 months after joining the soccer board. Since then I have joined four other boards, three of which I still serve on today.

It hasn’t been a pleasant journey, but it has made me the person I am today (and I think I’m pretty alright IMO). The thing is, we all have ‘stuff’ and we all place limitations on ourselves through the things we take on from other people’s opinions of us and the stories we tell ourselves. Ignore the nay-sayers and live the life you want and do what you know you should be doing. You can make it to the boardroom, even if you’re not elite or a member of the ‘in’ club.

My incredibly blessed journey to the boardroom has taught me three things:

· Don’t let yourself be defined by others: from where you are from, to your age, don’t let people pigeonhole you and place restrictive expectations on you.

· Be careful what you wish for: set your intentions, let them guide your decisions, and the universe will conspire to help you to achieve your goal.

· Take prudent risks: I volunteered to work for free to get a job at an organisation that I knew that I just had to work for; I risked it all moving to Adelaide and its paid off; and I put myself out there and joined boards before I knew how to be a board member. I had faith and backed myself all the way.

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