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AICD Chief Departs On a High

30 July 2014 at 11:15 am
Lina Caneva
After six years in the top job at the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Chief Executive John Colvin is set to depart, but not before reflecting on the organisational successes including bridging the gap between corporate Australia and the Not for Profit sector.

Lina Caneva | 30 July 2014 at 11:15 am


AICD Chief Departs On a High
30 July 2014 at 11:15 am

After six years in the top job at the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) Chief Executive John Colvin is set to depart, but not before reflecting on the organisational successes including bridging the gap between corporate Australia and the Not for Profit sector.689590.jpg

Chairman Michael Smith has lauded John Colvin for lifting the member-based, Not for Profit organisation for directors “from what was, frankly, a low point six years ago to the highs of today”.

The organisation, a growing voice in the debate around the replacement of the ACNC, is also moving into the advocacy arena, playing a role in developing and promoting policies on issues of interest to directors, including the Not for Profit sector.

With a burgeoning membership base of more than 35,000 individual members, ASX-listed companies, government bodies, Not for Profit organisations, charities, family-owned/private companies and entrepreneurial ventures, its potential influence on the social, public and private sectors cannot be disregarded.  

Colvin has spearheaded the organisation’s rapidly expanding agenda of educational and professional development programs, events for boards and directors and publications on director and governance issues.

Last year he was elected chairman of a new global network of corporate directors, The Global Network of Director Institutes (GNDI), an international partnership between nine membership organisations for corporate directors in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Europe, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK, and the US.

Now as he prepares to move on from AICD, handing the reins to former NSW Opposition Leader John Brogden, Pro Bono Australia News spoke to John Colvin about his time in the role, his view on the future of Not for Profit Governance and the prospect for greater cross-sectoral collaboration.

Moving into the Not for Profit Sector

“I think [Not for Profits] like the rest of Australia’s corporate world have concentrated and educated  themselves and have become far more aware of the benefits of good corporate governance, so I would say that’s a big plus and we have hopefully been helping them in that," Colvin said.

“In terms of education and providing greater ideas and also structure, I think education has worked well…one of things that’s really worked well is the Good Governance Principles and Guidance for Not for Profit Organisations. We spent a lot of time consulting with the Not for Profit sector, in various sectors…we worked very hard over about a year.

“I think that has been a great success and it’s probably one of the most accessed reports we’ve done in the last six years.”

Colvin also highlights the role AICD has come to play in policy and advocacy terms, recounting the work AICD did with the Labor Government when they first established the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

“We worked hard with a lot of Not for Profits and put a lot of energy, resources and effort into making sure that it was OK," he said.

“In our view, the then-government gave a bit of time for a really good consultation period. In this particular case, they did that well – in terms of making sure they didn't rush it, and in the end, in terms of corporate governance, it was a good one.”

The AICD has previously expressed concern regarding the abolition of the ACNC and plans for a Centre for Excellence, flagged as its replacement.

“We’re concerned about lack of consultation, we’re concerned about the lack of detail about what’s going to be there when it’s replaced," he said.

Colvin spotlights ongoing issues he says are critical to consider.

“A reduction of red tape, and harmonisation of state and territory regulations so Not for Profits extending beyond more than one state or territory aren’t duplicating their work," he said.

“Making sure that it’s a one stop reporting place – for all governments, so Not for Profits don’t have to keep redoing and rewriting submissions.

“Ensuring the governance structure of the Not for Profits is appropriate and relevant to Not for Profit organisations given the massive variation of not only size but also geographic location and industry specific organisations.”

Colvin said there were other aspects of the organisation that were increasingly relevant to Not for Profits – notably, the new international division, which has become the AICD’s fastest growing member base.

Leveraging the Corporate Sector

Colvin said he felt bridging the much talked about gap between corporate Australia and the Not for Profit sector was an area in which the AICD had done some of the most work, either directly or indirectly.

“Six years ago, we were at  23,500 members. Now at June 2014, we are at 35,212, an increase of about 50 per cent in that time. About 60 per cent are involved in the governance of Not for Profit organisations, and many wear multiple hats," he said.

“In particular, many on the boards of Australia’s top listed companies are also on the boards of Not for Profits and are involved in governance of these Not for Profits.  

“Even our other [non-ASX] members, all usually have multiple hats. There is that integration of what they do in their Not for Profits and the learning they get in their for-profit areas. They bring that corporate governance learning back into their Not for Profit areas…there is learning in both capacities, I think that has been a really strong element and one of the reasons Australia is regarded as one of the top countries in the world in corporate governance.”

Colvin was confident that the Australian private sector was well-equipped to be responsible social citizens in future.

“In Australia I think its a pretty high level of responsibility – there’s a pretty high view of how you work in that area," he said.

“For profit organisations know that they work and live in a community. They know they have to look after their shareholders, their stakeholders, no matter what type of organisation they’re in and what their role is.  No matter which way you come at it, is that it’s good business to be a good citizen at the same time. You have to make sure you’re a good citizen.

“The question becomes what further do you need to do. That’s really up to the corporations themselves as to how they do that.

“I think the main thing with any organisation is thinking – what are you there to do in the first place? If management is too distracted by other non-core issues beyond their real sense of purpose, you can actually lose focus on purpose and what you’re there to achieve.

“With that said, one of the good things I see at the moment is the amount of willingness to give back, and not just financially."

Looking forward

As he prepares to move on, Colvin reflects on how the development of the organisation itself has built its ability to assist others.

“We’ve invested heavily into our education, particularly in our IT and our capabilities. I think our revenue’s up about 100 per cent. That gives us more capacity to look after organisations, particularly Not for Profit organisations, and to be able advocate publicly and privately on their behalf," he said.

“We’re more likely to be sought after for our opinions these days than we were earlier.”

Colvin outlines his hopes for AICD’s future.

“I hope the membership is looked after as well as we possibly can, particularly in the Not for Profit sector… also that we keep the momentum going and are innovating and continue to innovate and be aware of why we’re here, which is to make sure that corporate governance gets better and better and to praise it when it is good," he said.

“In the meantime, I’d like for people to have satisfying careers while they’re working here  and that it’s a highly sought after organisation to work for.  

“You always leave, hopefully as a CEO, with the engine running flat out. You hope that transition will be very good. We’re all working hard to make sure that happens.

“I don’t have any regrets, I think quite the opposite. I think what we’ve achieved as a team is much further than I thought we’d achieve when I first started.

“I’m looking forward to my next career, whatever that is!”

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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