Advisor Insights with Stuart Allinson: Chair, Start-Up & High Growth Companies

Advisor Insights

Published 28 February 2020

Stuart is an experienced director, moving through executive positions culminating in his role as Managing Director of an ASX-listed disruptive digital technology which he co-founded. Stuart has since taken on non-executive roles both as a director and an independent advisor, primarily in high growth technologies in the new economy.

As a board member of the Climate Change Authority, Stuart is deeply involved in climate policy and energy policy, including meeting Australia’s 2030 Paris commitments and the proposed National Energy Guarantee. This exposes him to a broad range of sustainable technologies, from smart infrastructure to AG-tech. In this Advisor Insights Series, Stuart shares his insights into the Advisory Board sector for disruptive and high growth companies.

The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

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Louise Broekman: Hi, I’m Louise Broekman, the founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Centre. Here with Stuart Allinson for his Advisory Board Insights. Welcome Stuart.

Stuart Allinson: Thank you Louise.

Louise Broekman: So Stuart, let’s start off with you sharing a bit about your story.

Stuart Allinson: I’ve been involved in energy on most of my life and government policy, around climate. But my business journey, I went from working at one of the big four consultancy firms to doing my own thing and then co-founding and leading a software start-up, from Melbourne to an ASX listing. That’s now operating internationally – Europe, USA, New Zealand, UK. It has been a hell of a journey with all the people that are better at that stage are dealing with that business now.

I came out of there working six days a week full time, in a CEO/MD role, really wanting to reflect and look to do something more outward-looking rather than inward-looking at just trying to run a company. I sat down and realised that I had learned a lot without realising it.

Louise Broekman: Tell me about the transition into Advisory Boards and what’s been your experience with Advisory Boards Stewart?

Stuart Allinson: I was approached by a couple of organisations trying to set up Advisory Boards and I quickly realised there’s just something not quite right in the way that they’d been set up, either the incentives were wrong or they had got the Advisory Board together before being clear about what it was that the Advisory Board was there to do. I researched, as you always do with search engines, start off with ‘Advisory Boards’ and see what’s out there. I found your organisation Louise and that takes us way back to early 2018.

That gave me a really good approach to helping start-ups and emerging tech on a growth path. I’ve worn different hats through my various roles in that previous existence, Executive, non-Executive, Governance Board member, and consultant Advisor. The Advisory Board frame helped me to unravel what hat you’re wearing and what’s the context in which you’re operating.  So, I’ve been able to use that, with about half dozen different companies that are on the early stages of their development, to put some structure and protocols in place to help those entrepreneurs as best as we possibly can.

Louise Broekman: What do you like about being on Advisory Boards?

Stuart Allinson: The overarching one is the sense that you can really get to the nub of a problem and to help. If I go far enough back in my career, I’ve come from corporate background working in global organizations where there’s an expert somewhere in the world on any topic and you can just pick the phone up. Small businesses don’t have that luxury. They’re often time poor and resource poor, in terms of capturing that expertise.

What I love, is the network I have access to within the Advisory Board Center and the other experts that are out there. I have really enjoyed the Advisory Boards that I’m on because there’s some really smart people. You are constantly learning as well as contributing. Everybody’s path is slightly different, but I think I’ve got a lot of empathy for MD’s having to make decisions with that time pressure all the time and it can be quite a lonely job.

Stuart Allinson: So to have the ability to have an in confidence, trusted relationship and discussion to get to the bottom of challenges for the business and help them move forward, I think is really rewarding.  Hopefully it’s a two-way flow of contribution and reward.

Louise Broekman: It’s nice being able to see the impact that you have on other people, but you’re learning at the same time.

Stuart Allinson: Absolutely, it can often come early just with a comment from an MD. You know, a business in South Australia, we came out of the last board meeting saying, “that was a fantastic meeting”. You know they’ve gone to some really challenging areas and have moved forward. The other Board that I Chair, we had a pivotal time recently where we’ve really worked on the strategic imperatives and how that relates to the work of the Governance Board.

So, I was there at a briefing with one of the independent Directors, which then flowed into the Governance Board meeting in the afternoon which I wasn’t part of. But I led the Advisory Board meeting and the feedback was that the Governance Board meeting went swimmingly because they focused on the issues that we had been working through. So that in itself, is just great encouragement for him.

Louise Broekman: It also reinforces the importance of having the right governance frameworks around Advisory Boards to ensure that there is a distinction between the Advisory Board and the Governance Board and how it can actually support the Governance Board.

Stuart Allinson: Absolutely. For the uninitiated, I think there can be some confusion about that, but that idea of Advisory is an important part of it. As I say to all the MD’s that I work with, it’s your sounding board, it’s your resource and we’re there to help you make recommendations to the Governance Board and to get decisions made. That’s where decisions get made. This is where strategic thinking can happen in a safe place where you can really challenge the thinking. It’s really helpful to separate those things out, even if smaller organisations don’t have the luxury of both, that they can at least be clear about the context.

Louise Broekman: So to wrap it up. What tips do you have for Business Owners and what tips would you have for Advisors?

Stuart Allinson: Tips for Business Owners, is to use your Advisors but choose your Advisors well. You can be inundated with well-meaning advice, so getting the right Advisors on board is really imperative. If it is one thing you should take the time to do, is getting that right. For Advisors, the key for me is to learn the context of the Executive or MD you’re supporting. To learn the language of the organisation and their market and to avoid the temptation to live vicariously, you’re there to help them, not to run their business.

Louise Broekman: That is very important advice. Thank you so much. You’re always very generous with your time and really appreciate you sharing your insights today.