Can you tell me a bit about your experience as an independent director?
I joined Oracle New Zealand as managing director in 2007 and was on the board there from 2007 to 2011. In 2011 Oracle globally decided to bring the director role for our geographic operations under the exclusive control of legal. So I resigned as director of the local operation, but remained CEO until I left in 2013 to focus on roles in the New Zealand technology industry. I have since taken up one advisory director and two independent director roles.
I am a director of both PIM - Personal Information Management - and Fuel50 - Career Engagement Group. Both are relatively new companies focused on leveraging innovative technology that brings significant value to medium and large enterprises. PIM is providing online identity verification services and a digital vault, while Fuel50 is an innovative software-as-a-service solution to improve employee engagement and help with career management. Both companies have been through fundraising rounds in 2014 and are growing in both customers and revenues.
How did you become involved with PIM?
I have known Ross Hughson, the founder of PIM, for more than 20 years. We were colleagues at IBM many years ago, and then we continued to work in roles where we engaged with each other - Ross mainly as a customer and me on the vendor/provider side. When Ross decided to focus on his new business venture, PIM, I stayed in contact with him and followed his progress.
As soon as I decided to leave the US corporate world and focus on helping build a stronger local tech sector, Ross was one of the first companies I approached. Knowing Ross, his strong sense of ethics, and his style were all factors in me wanting to explore how we might work together.
I spent about six months helping with his business plan, and then helping with execution. Our capabilities and experiences were very complementary and I was spending about two or three days per month providing things like strategy advice, networks, competitive and industry insights, suggestions for contacts and partners and being a sounding board.
Then early this year Ross asked me to consider becoming a director of PIM. Ross and his business partner Aaron, who is the COO of PIM, had been able to do their due diligence on me and equally I had been able to better understand the market and the business proposition.
What do you think you bring to the company as a director?
It's mainly to do with the activities I mentioned above, but I also bring a fresh set of eyes and ears to the company, and come from a different perspective. When you are not involved in the day-to-day operation of the company, it's easier to focus and think about the strategic implications of various factors for the business. Ross and Aaron use me frequently as a sounding board - to test market assumptions, consider how players might react, advise what position to take on key negotiations, and who - and how - to approach a new market, partner or opportunity.
What impact do you think the company's governance has had on the business?
PIM already had good rigour and discipline around their fiduciary responsibilities, and this fortunately continues, and is noted and welcomed by the supportive shareholders.
The governance at PIM has created a separate and discrete approach to reviewing and approving the company's strategy and key business activities. Governance has also introduced a new network and way of thinking about the market, and the value proposition that PIM brings.
What advice would you have for other independent directors in terms of maximising the positive impact they can have on a small business?
Find a way to 'test the waters' and engage with the company before becoming a director. You could offer your services, for example, as a mentor, adviser or in an advisory board role. I'd recommend getting to know the key stakeholders in the business: can you work with them? Can they work with you? Will they take on-board independent advice? How will they react to being challenged, both personally and professionally? Will they act in the best interests of themselves or the company first?
I'd also carefully consider if your involvement will bring real value. What experience, networks, skills, and thinking do you have that will allow you to build on the value of the company?
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