Guest: Julie Garland McLellan
Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest Bio: As an experienced board director with current directorships, an international expert on corporate governance, and a corporate governance advisor to boards and directors, Julie Garland McLellan champions the cause of directors required to shoulder enormous responsibility on a shoestring budget. Government sector, mid/small cap, and not-for-profit boards need tailored solutions, not cut down versions of programs designed to fit large listed boards.She uses her real-life experience and deep knowledge of corporate governance to show boards with limited resources how to be more effective through practical governance innovation and know-how. She is the author of the Directors’ Dilemma Newsletter and five practical books that show how directors can respond to real-life situations with effective leadership. Engage Julie to energise your conference with an interactive real-life case study, to facilitate your board workshop, or drive to improved board and director performance by an insightful review. Her ultimate objective is to empower directors to add value. Your board and company will gain insights and the skills to make a real difference.
Segment Overview: In this segment, corporate governance expert Julie Garland McLellan joins the program to talk about the different businesses she’s engaged in and the wide variety of services that she provides. She is best known for being the publisher of the “Director’s Dilemma Newsletter.” She offers workshops are suitable for aspiring and new directors or for Boards that have recently formed and are still developing a unique culture. The special course can be customised to suit different sectors – public or private.
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Business Radio Talkers.FM. My name is Wayne Bucklar and today it’s my pleasure to introduce to you as my guest Julie Garland McLellan. Now I met Julie recently and she’s an intriguing person to listen to but I’ll let her introduce her businesses and tell you what she does. Julie, welcome to the show.
Julie Garland McLellan: Thank You Wayne, it’s a pleasure to be with you. I live a charmed life. I work predominantly in the boardroom. So I consult to boards and directors and I’m most well known for being the publisher of the “Director’s Dilemma Newsletter.”
Wayne: Now Julie, fill us in what is it that you do.
Julie: Okay. Within the business world, most people are quite focused on doing their job moving up to the next job and it all seems to come to a point at the CEO. But as many our listeners will be aware, above the CEO there is usually a board of directors and a lot of senior and middle managers are quite interested in serving on boards. It’s one of the few part-time jobs that carries a great deal of respect and is also if you are on certain boards very well remunerated. But it’s a job that comes with very onerous duties, it’s a job that’s quite hard to get and it’s a job that has some very large personal liabilities. So I work with boards and directors in that space of how do we do our job well enough that we don’t wind up in court or suffering for it?
Wayne: And that’s an intriguing area to work in I have to say because I have an interest in governance and the functions of board particularly in some of the less commercial spaces in government and in not-for-profits. Do you help out in those areas as well?
Julie: Yes, I do. And I find that these are boards which often have exactly the same responsibilities and duties as a large listed company. So for example, if you are on the board of a small not-for-profit such as “Youth Insearch” which helps try to move children onto a good life path so that they don’t wind up in custodial care because they’ve taken a criminal path. You’ve got exactly the same director duties under the corporations that as if you were on the board of BHP, or Telstra or the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Wayne: I’m willing to bet the directors’ fees are better on the Commonwealth Bank than they are on the charity you mentioned.
Julie: Most charities do not pay their directors. Some directors believe that they legally can’t be paid, that’s actually incorrect. The Australian National Regulator for Charities, the ACNC accept that directors can be paid if that is in the benefit of the corporation. So if a company believes it can’t get directors without paying, then it will pay. However, most directors in the charity sector and indeed across a lot of the not-for-profit sector donate their time as a way of giving back and building the sort of community and society they wish to live in.
Wayne: Now Julie, I know you’ve had a fascinating career. I wonder if you could just sketch in some of the highlights because I’ve read your bio and I know you’ve worked in various countries and some very high-profile Australian positions. Can you just give us a little snapshot of how you got to where you are?
Julie: Initially, accidentally. I was a senior executive, I got sent to go and run the Spanish offices and discovered that I actually in a month, all the paperwork I’d find there was a piece of paper that said I consented to be the locally resident director of the Spanish subsidiary. And I thought, “Oh, what could that mean?” And my boss said, “Oh nothing, you just do as you’re told and everything will be fine.” Unfortunately for me, I asked the local accountant and he said, “Well that means that if anything goes wrong and the company breaks any laws, or becomes insolvent, or heaven forbid, have an accident and somebody gets killed, you’re the one who can go to jail because you’re the one who’s here.” And I said, “But I have instructions for everything I do. I’m just following orders.” And he said, “No, when you’re on a board, you’re not allowed to follow orders. You have to make proper and diligent inquiry and take your own course of action.” And being a fairly independent and inquiring person, I thought they found it fascinating. So I started learning about boards from my early 30s which meant that I could really target a broadening career and build up some expertise. So I thought it’s serving on not-for-profit boards, I read everything I could read about them, I was still working full time as an executive. But one of the good things is if you’re good at what you do as an executive, you will become a senior executive. And if you’re good at that, people will naturally start to invite you to join boards and then of course, the important thing is to join the right board so that you’re either rewarded in furthering your career if that’s your career path or so that you are having the impact that you want to have if that’s your desire. But in both cases, without running the risk of being jailed for up to 20 years if there’s an industrial manslaughter or without running the risk of losing your life savings or your reputation and being banned from ever taking part in the management or direction of a corporation again so you can never earn them back.
Wayne: It is a dilemma to be had there and that I guess brings me to something that I want to mention to you. Your newsletter, now I’ve had a little read and I was fascinated with the one edition that I’ve read. Can you explain the format and what it tries to do?
Julie: One of the things I’ve discovered, I was so excited about directorship that the Institute of Company Directors invited me to come along and present their courses, so I’ve been doing that since 1998 which is quite some time ago now, don’t add it up. So with presenting education to directors, a lot of the education you get given is very negative, “You must do this, if you don’t do this you’ll go to jail. You must make sure this happens.” And when you’re on the board of for example a large government trading enterprise and you’ve got 5 or 6 industrial sites across the state, you’ve got hundreds of employees doing millions of things. There’s no way that’s an easy ask. And when you ask the regulators, or the accountants or the lawyers, “Well, how do I do it?” They don’t know because they’re not directors and they’ve never tried doing it. They just tell you, you must do it and if the courts find you didn’t do it well enough, you’re in trouble. So directors strangely enough don’t like going into a room and being told that they’re going to be in trouble and they better watch out and no, there’s no practical help for them. So one of the things that I found is really helpful is helping people to understand what really happened and what problems look like when they are starting. So the newsletter looks at situations that commonly arise and if you make the right decisions, everything will be fine. But if you don’t recognize the situations and make a decision or if you make the wrong decisions, it can put you on a path from which it’s very difficult to get back. So the newsletter presents real-life case studies of real boards and real issues. It talks to three different expert commentators to get three points of view. So each issue gives you a range of possible responses and very often, the three experts completely disagree with each other because we’ve all had backgrounds. So my approach based on my experiences on my boards and my executive life will be quite different from the approach of somebody who’s been on different boards and had a different executive trajectory. And this is one of the reasons why people are talking so much about diversity on boards because it’s important to get those perspectives and then in view of all those different pieces of information, make the best decision for your company at this time in these circumstances. And exposure to how our people make decisions affects your own judgement and your own decision-making ability. So that in a nutshell is the newsletter, it’s entirely practical, it doesn’t start from the law or the regulation. It starts from, “This is what might happen and if it did, what might you do.”
Wayne: And Julie, I think I noticed that you had amongst your publications, amongst your books look like a collection of some of those newsletters are a collection of at least some of the dilemmas that are in there, is that right?
Julie: Yes. I have two collections of dilemmas across a diverse range of different companies and one book which strangely enough is more popular than the other two put together which is purely “Not-For-Profit Boards Dilemmas.” It’s very imaginatively entitled, “Not-For-Profit Boards Dilemmas.” All my books are available on Amazon or you can buy them through the Australian Institute of Company Directors book service which by the way I recommend because they have a lot of books that even are so difficult because Australia is such a small country, we don’t import government books very consistently. So it can be hard to find writing specifically about boards of directors. So the institute actually does import a small number of relevant books and I love their reading list, it’s always worth getting and reading.
Wayne: And Julie, what about people who are interested in the Newsletter, how do they get on the mailing list?
Julie: The easiest way to get on the mailing list is to go to the website and sign up and that is at directorsdilemma.com or you can link to me on LinkedIn and navigate to it for my page there if you find that easier.
Wayne: Now Julie Garland McLellan, it’s been lovely having a chat with you today. I have to say I’m always delighted to speak to an expert, they make complex things simple and simple things even easy for me to understand. Julie, it’s been a pleasure having you with us today. Thank you for being available. For those people who want to get hold of you, what’s the best website?
Julie: The best website would be the Director’s Dilemma website which is www.directorsdilemma.com and you can also find me on LinkedIn if you have trouble finding the website.
Wayne: And if you’ve missed my chat with Julie Garland McLellan, the good news is we have an audio archive on YouTube, iTunes and SoundCloud where you can listen to the whole interview again. We also have the interview transcribed and that’s on our website at www.talkers.fm. This is Talkers.FM, my name is Wayne Bucklar.