Article written by Goolam Modack.
I have been an independent non-executive director and board member for various subsidiaries of a listed entity since 2010. As a director of one of the subsidiaries, I am invited to attend the listed entity’s group audit and risk committee meetings. My experience as a board member influences and shapes how I teach. If I had to sum it up: my board experience lends an authenticity to my teaching.
1. People are key drivers
The students I teach are aspiring CAs and many (if not all) see being a CEO, FD or board member as the pinnacle of that success. However, the reality is that many also view governance or legislation as a process of rote learning lists of requirements and recommendations, which may seem unimportant and of little relevance. That is understandable because from their experience, much of what is taught is theoretical.
My being a board member is a useful reminder to the students that the boards and their committees comprise people. These are the people charged with governance who are informed management and have to make decisions that invariably involve employees, customers, suppliers, society and the like.. Everyone is part of a broader value chain.
Here, the robustness of governance structures, making decisions and communicating effectively and responding to change are all important considerations.
2. Greater appreciation for the real-world context
I have gained practical experience in developing strategy, critiquing its implementation and execution, understanding risks in a real-world context and reporting in a regulated environment. This experience informs my teaching. From discussions with management, I am able to identify the issues that newly qualified graduates grapple with such as self-leadership, execution of practical tasks and understanding basic concepts. These aspects now take on greater focus in the curriculum and are easy to sell because they are not my thoughts but those of the management teams the students will be working with and for in the future.
3. I am a student too!
I am constantly learning as my board experience develops. As a board member in a highly regulated environment my knowledge across disciplines and of real world issues has to be current. I have to be prepared for meetings; focus on the task(s) at hand; ask questions; see the big picture; slow down my thought process to be able to navigate through transactions and proposals; ask the right questions and ultimately be decisive. These are skills I expect of the students. I expect much from them, but none of that is unreasonable for where they are currently and in relation to what will be expected of them as they progress through their careers. My expectations for the student and feedback on how to tackle questions, and communicate information effectively come more naturally as my own board experience has developed and is therefore an easy sell.
4. Stories are effective
Students love stories and to the extent that I am able to and where relevant, I can share my experiences in relation to the content being covered. This sparks an interest, holds their attention and they learn without the process being forced.