Entrepreneur and businessperson Wendy Thompson was already an experienced board member when she took the Institute of Director’s Company Directors’ Course (CDC), but she says there was still much to learn.

“I thought it would be a great experience and I would meet interesting people,” says Wendy, founder of Thompson Spencer, one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing full-service creative media agencies.

“It was fantastic. I took so many learnings away from the programme but the biggest one was the importance of diversity of a board, in terms of background and experience.

“It also really clarified for me the importance of the board setting the vision and direction of the company. It levelled up my confidence about how to run my own company and has helped in my decisions whether to join boards, in terms of making it easier to assess what value I would bring to them.”

The five-and-a-half-day CDC is the benchmark for directors and senior leaders reporting to boards with a focus on improving decision-making ability in the boardroom.

It explores the director’s roles and responsibilities and includes daily board simulation exercises, bringing case studies to life to highlight the unpredictable nature of business and the human nature of directorships.

Attendees report benefits beyond governance skill building, particularly the development of strong governance networks, personal growth and confidence in their directorships.

Thompson has more than 20 years’ experience in global marketing. She founded social media marketing company Socialites in 2010, growing it to become the largest social media agency in New Zealand. Four further specialist companies were acquired along the way and in 2023 the businesses rebranded as Thompson Spencer.

She was Australasian Social Media Marketer of the Year in 2019, an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 2021 and her business has twice featured in the Deloitte Fast50.

“At the time I did the company directors’ course, I had joined the board of the Well Foundation, the official charity for North Shore and Waitākere hospitals and local community health services,” says Thompson.

“They wanted someone with marketing experience to join the board and I am very interested in health and wellness. I learned a lot about the health system and how a board relates to a CEO and it got me inspired.

“At the same time, my own company was growing significantly and I was considering bringing external directors onto its board. So, I also felt the course would give me inside scope to ensure I got the best for my company.”

Thompson says a real benefit of the CDC was the mix of people from different professional backgrounds.

“When you work in a particular field, you tend to meet people from your own industry. It’s a very practical course so you are put into a working situation with so many different people, from corporate lawyers to politicians, which was so good.”

Topics covered on the course include best practice corporate governance, strategy in the boardroom, finance and the board’s role, directors and the law, board dynamics and culture, and risk governance.

The programme includes a simulated board exercise. Participants work with four to five other board members addressing a scenario such as company solvency. Then, in the afternoons, each group tests their assumptions and decisions with the full group and compares them to genuine New Zealand case studies.

“We held board meetings, had meeting papers delivered to us and made decisions as a board, it was very hands-on practice,” says Thompson. “I was made ‘chair’ and my board included people from food processing to HR, operations and finance and company lawyers. So that was the big eye opener about diversity and what different people brought to the table.

“Often, in the media, you see the CEO talking and it can be easy to think they make the decisions but the board has more power than people realise – they hire the CEO and they set the company direction. The course sets out what you need to know, every day.”

Thompson undertook the CDC pre-pandemic and says the clarity it provided for her was invaluable when she joined the board for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2019.

“Then Covid happened, so it was huge, looking at risk assessment, and I had to have a real depth of knowledge of exactly what my role was as a board member and to have the security to know what I was doing was correct.

“We had to make some very tough calls and balance taking risks and not taking risks, ensuring everything was compliant but making sure outcomes happened. It was very stressful but a lot of growth happened. We did an amazing job to support the management team.

“Knowing exactly where your responsibility lies as a board member really came to the fore – and I had to make some tough decisions in my own company too.”

Thompson has recently joined the board of Pacific Cooperation Broadcasting, a New Zealand government initiative, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the aim of building stronger relationships in the Pacific region by supporting the media sector.

She is also on the board of Te Korowai o Waiheke, a community charitable trust focused on making Waiheke the world’s first urban predator-free island.

“Te Korowai is a fantastic community venture and the Pacific Cooperation Broadcasting role is an amazing operation, empowering story sovereignty in the Pacific, helping local broadcasters to get better equipment and training and to take Pacific stories to the world.

“It’s a perfect fit for me as I knew I could add a lot of value, helping navigate into their digital future.

“Good governance is so important because the board is the heart and soul of an entity and ongoing professional development for directors is important because board’s roles are constantly evolving.

“You need to know where your line starts and stops as a board member or it can quickly become a grey area. So, I would highly recommend the Company Directors’ Course, not just for professional directors but for all business people. It just offers exceptional value.”

To find out more about the Institute of Directors’ Company Directors’ Course, click here or call 0800 846 369.

Story by Patricia Thompson

Institute of Directors is a supporter of the Startup NZ entrepreneurs scholarship programme.


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