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Advisor Insights with Mark Wray: Chairman, Board Director, Certified Chair
Mark Wray is a highly respected Chair & Director, with 30 years CEO and CFO Experience for public and private companies across Australia, Asia and North America.
As a Certified Chair, Mark has developed a carefully curated portfolio of companies that he supports to define and execute on their strategic vision. In this Advisor Insights conversation with Louise Broekman, CEO of the Advisory Board Centre, Mark shares his story and top tips for businesses and advisors wanting to get the most out of their Advisory structure.
The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.
I think the first step is, you come out of big corporates and you think I’m going to walk into an ASX 200. Well, that’s not going to happen. You’re not going to get those sorts of directorships straight up. There’s a range of options. I found the advisory board method was a great way to build my portfolio.
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Welcome Mark, to our Advisory Board Insights. I really appreciate you taking the time out in a beautiful location, it looks like!
Yes, Sydney, Louise. It’s lovely. Lovely to catch up with you guys as well.
Thanks for taking the time. To start with Mark, I’d love to hear more about your story.
I’m a 30 year career executive. I did do a few degrees as most people do. They knock out a science degree. Then wonder what to do with that, then knock out an accounting degree. And in the eighties you had to have an accounting degree, with a law degree. So I’ve had to knock out a law degree. Your father says, you better go get a job, you’ve got more degrees than a thermometer. So, do that. I’ve had a wonderful career, with groups like Wesfarmers, that taught a lot me a lot around the importance of strategy. Seven years within that group is a really powerful time. And, overseas experience, it’s always good to see how the world operates in Asia and America and the UK. In the nineties, when you still had a chance to get away overseas with work! And then some wonderful experience in James Hardy, came back there and it was a lovely time, it was seven years in that whole traumatic time of their business, resetting it.
These skills out of James Hardy and these big firms give you a lot of skills in regards to structure, process and discipline. You know, lots of projects so they are able to bring project management training to put you through in order to get projects done. So you might have a finance background but they still expect projects to be done in a structured, disciplined way. And so that was a wonderful there. So if you’ve got some of that sort of experience 20 odd years in large corporates, you can then start to apply it to large food and ag groups. And that’s where I went into the Steggles group as their CFO and general counsel, bringing those skills of setting the strategy, resetting businesses, doing it in a structured, disciplined way, and had five years there and then applied it to another big group.
The Craig Mostyn group, another big family group, $600 million turnover, ended up getting the CEO role there, but applying all those principles. So having had a wonderful executive career, embarked on the board career, that’s always a start. Most of us are all saying, well, we’ve done this for 30 years, I might be getting in my late fifties or sixties and you can start your career anytime you like, but in my case, I wanted to start it then. I tentatively went out for six months and thought, Oh, have I done the right thing without lining them up. I use a combination of the advisory board method and the governance board method and it’s been quite successful.
It would be great for you to share what’s been your experience around advisory boards and what that has been like?
I think the first step is, you come out of big corporates and you think I’m going to walk into an ASX 200. Well, that’s not going to happen. You’re not going to get those sorts of directorships straight up. Then you weigh them all up. There’s a range of options. You’ve got Not For Profit, you’ve got advisory boards, you’ve got governance boards. And I found the advisory board method was a great way to start it. I was getting lots of requests from friends to help out, you know, a whiskey business saying, well, I’ll give you a bottle of whiskey if you help us out with our strategy and then they start to move into rewarding you. And so you embark on that and then you might get a governance board role and slowly you chip away if you need a combination of both. Advisory boards can be a bit of a hybrid between, you don’t want to consult, but you want to be an advisor on a monthly basis. So I found the advisory board a great way to start. And then I’m running the two, as I said, governance and advisory, and very successfully.
What has been the benefits for the businesses that have had advisory boards? What’s been the outcome of that, Mark, that you’ve seen?
Well, I think in the experience of mine, it’s the broad experience. Some advisory boards want a dedicated advisor in a certain section. Others want advisors that can cover a range of sections. And that’s usually around, in my case, strategy and governance, and bringing some of the legal skills in as well. Being able to help them with a range of issues but predominantly strategy.
I find with businesses, if you say, why are you doing that, you’ve got to go back to Y, which comes out of strategy. I think most of us advisors can drive the strategy quite well, but you’ve got to go back to the basics that you’ve done in other groups, head back your SWOT analysis, look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities. You lead it and then drive your strategic issues. We’ll have strategies and then get back down to some initiatives that will drive the business along.
And why have they chosen an advisory board versus other methods, Mark? What’s been the motivation on that side?
I think the first step is they don’t generally want to go to a governance board. When I talk governance boards, this is probably the $100, $200 million space. You’ve got the other space between the startups, the 5 million capitalizations, the tens, the 30s. They’re still owner-operators generally, they don’t want to embark on sharing all their financials sometimes, they want to keep that to themselves. And so therefore the advisory board gives you that mechanism. But they do want strategy. Every single one of them wants to get the strategic game happening and you can give them help to get there.
With your experience in advisory boards, Mark, what would be your tips that you would give business owners and the tips that you would give advisors?
It’s still around those classics, sounds a bit cliche, but it’s around innovation and strategy. It’s amazing, strategies about structure and process. And when we say that, going through that process, the number of owner-operators who say, we’ve got to get our strategy right because they get tied up in the day to day and they find they need an independent person to drive their strategy piece.
So you’ve got to have agendas where you put strategy up there and get rid of all the other stuff, the operational stuff, down the bottom of the agenda and get that strategy piece up. Then make sure the strategy, you drive it. You want to drive it out into marketing initiatives, operational initiatives and fitness initiatives. So when I say sales and marketing, what strategic initiatives are you going to have to drive that area? What are you going to do about your cost of production or operational costs? And what about your fitness? Do you have the right people in the place? Is your safety fine, is your quality fine, so break those areas up and I think as advisors you’ll have a successful career and you’ll bring a lot of value to the businesses.
Mark, thank you for taking the time and for sharing your story and as you continue to work in this space, come and check in with us. Let’s do another catch up because it’s always great to have that knowledge being shared by you.