NZIBA judge Janine Smith on the gender imbalance in business

NZIBA judge Janine Smith on the gender imbalance in business
About Janine Smith, judge in the New Zealand International Business Awards 2013

Serial directorship-holder Janine Smith is a judge in the New Zealand International Business Awards 2013, and has been a board member of more companies over the last 15 years than most people even dream of – we delve into some of her motivations and philosophies.

Janine Smith’s mother worked all her life out of pure enjoyment – and her engineering father taught her the importance of life-long learning and development while working around the globe. With integrity, a hard work ethic, and a seamless fusion of business with home life growing up, it was only natural Smith would grow up to be one of New Zealand’s leading female professional directors.

She has been a director or chair of organisations across diverse sectors, from the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra to Venture Taranaki to Airways Corporation to universities, and holds an M Phil in Governance (effective boards) on top of a B Comm in finance and marketing. Currently she is chair of AsureQuality, a director of The Warehouse Group, Steel and Tube Holdings, Kensington Swan Legal, a principal of The Boardroom Practice Limited, and the only independent member of the Fonterra Governance Development Committee.

She seems to thrive on it – namely, the intellectual stimulation of being exposed to such a wide variety of industries, boards and management.

Her first executive directorship came about in her mid-30s, at a time when female directors were few and far between compared to the present. “This [imbalance] has been changing over the last decade or more as it is recognised that diversity of thought around the board table is important and can offer companies a competitive advantage.” – as illustrated in her current role with AsureQuality, whose board has four women and four men around the table, bringing both diversity and a range of skills that help the board be effective in its role.

She moves between industries fairly easily because, she says, business principles are the same no matter what the sector or type of organisation – the differences are instead in the stage of the industry’s life cycle, the company’s position within this and the company’s own measurable critical success factors. A big advantage of her inter-industry experience is the ability to take knowledge and transfer it across industries in the form of advice – for example, she has seen decisions made in the service industry that she recognised from 10 years earlier in the manufacturing industry, when it was at a similar phase of growth and competition.

In fact, the history of governance and its different forms, and what works and what doesn’t, was the focus of Smith’s Master’s degree. After extensively interviewing experienced chairs, directors and CEOs for her thesis, she has news for chairs – they are the most important single influence on boardroom effectiveness. 

“The chair had the ability to get the best out of the board members for the total benefit of the company and their style of leadership had the greatest influence around the board table.”

“A further influence on board effectiveness was relationships whether they were between board and management, internal board relationships, the chair and CEO relationships or the directors’ personal characteristics. In the end, it came down to teamwork, and trust and respect between the various players. And of course the CEO was seen (and is) the most important person and greatest asset to the company.” 

Perhaps most rewarding of her endeavours is The Boardroom Practice Limited. She is part owner and principal – a role that has seen her train over 350 women in governance.

“It’s good to see the increased confidence that the women gain following these sessions – likewise the training I carry out with women’s organisation Global Women as part of their overall leadership development.”

The service The Boardroom Practice offers also enables her to draw on her accumulated knowledge and wisdom from the years in both management and as director to advise both individuals and boards.

And an exciting development on her plate at the moment? The collaborative framework agreement that AsureQuality and PwC New Zealand recently signed with China Mengniu Dairy Company Limited and COFCO Corporation, to investigate the development of a China New Zealand agribusiness service and Food Safety Centre of Excellence in China (basically, New Zealand is going to share its knowledge on quality assurance with China).

“We see this as being a major win-win for both countries … New Zealand will earn long term commercial returns on its world class quality assurance advice to the Chinese and importantly open the door for further revenue opportunities for New Zealand Agri service companies who are also at world best practice.  

“Importantly, if New Zealand chose not to assist – China would engage other countries that will fill their need and NZ would miss out on these benefits. Our help in China will also be beneficial for trade with China under our free trade agreement. And it also serves to build New Zealand’s reputation and take our learnings to other countries in the medium term.”