Date posted: 26/06/2017 3 min read

Four skills you need to make it as a board director

Advice for aspiring board directors from the chair of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand Murray Jack FCA.

In brief

  • As corporate governance has changed, so have the requirements (and recruitment processes) for board members.
  • One of the most desirable skills for board directors – and the most difficult to source - is technology experience.
  • Chartered Accountants ANZ is currently seeking expressions of interest from members for two board vacancies.

If becoming a board director is on your bucket list then be aware that both the recruitment process, and the skillset required, have undergone a sizeable shift.  

“Boards have changed,” says Murray Jack FCA, who is chair of the Chartered Accountants ANZ Board. “Largely, that’s in response to [changes to] business context; sometimes in response to regulatory changes or changes in attitudes. But if you contrast boards of today with boards of, say 20 years ago, there’s a lot more time spent on dealing with compliance and regulatory matters.”

Perhaps most importantly for aspiring directors, Jack says that board recruitment processes are evolving too.

“Boards are getting better at sourcing [members] than they used to be, so they tend to be running more competitive recruitment processes now.”

“They'll use headhunting firms, for example, to really hone in on particular skills and on individuals that fit. In the past it was much more about networks and about who you knew. Although there are still elements of that, it’s far less important these days.”

“Be careful which boards you choose to be on. Look at the company that you'll be keeping as a director, and make sure you’re comfortable with that [company].”
Murray Jack FCA, chair of the Chartered Accountants ANZ board.
So what skills do board members need nowadays? And how easy are they to source?


Jack believes one of the most desirable skills – and the number one most difficult to source – is experience in the technology space.

“Organisations – both at the governance level and the executive level – are working it out as they go, so sourcing really high quality experience in the [technology] space is a challenge,” he says.

“In light of digital disruption, a lot of organisations are grappling with the impact that technology change is having on business models.

"There’s not a lot of embedded experience in some of these areas, unlike other areas where skills and experience exist."

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Advice for aspiring board directors


“Be respectful of others and respect diversity of thought,” Jack advises. “Everyone comes with experience and perspectives and insights and, while they'll be different from your own, they're no less valuable because of that.”

“Boards generally are much more diverse today than they were 20 years ago,” says Jack, “and that's by and large a great thing.”

In an era of improved board diversity, the need for respect in the boardroom is greater than ever.

Listen up

“Be a really careful listener,” says Jack. “Don’t ‘check out’ if things don't interest you, but stay alert and engaged and be an active listener.”

Professional empathy is vital if you’re going to be a member of a high-functioning board, and listening is a key aspect of this. So too is the need to prepare emotionally for a board role.

“A board is a team,” says Jack, “it's not just a collection of individuals… So you need to have an environment where directors can disagree and challenge each other.”

“Having significant executive experience at a very senior level can also be important,” says Jack. “It's not essential, but it enables you to really understand the dynamic between the board and executive at a different level – it helps you understand the executive mind-set – and I think it gives you a more detailed, nuanced understanding, which can make you a much more effective board director.”

Consider where you can contribute

“Think about where you want to make a contribution,” advises Jack. “Be thoughtful about where you might have [the best] impact."

You should consider what it is you have to offer, as well as what you hope to achieve by joining a board

“This will help you determine the particular areas where you can add the most value,” Jack says.

Be careful of the company you keep

“Be careful which boards you choose to be on,” warns Jack. “Look at the company that you'll be keeping as a director and make sure you’re comfortable with that [company]."

“When you think about positioning yourself for boards, [some of the best] places to start are not for profits or subsidiaries of entities where you are an executive. This is where you can get a taste of board experience.”