29/03/2016 - 10:59

Still tough at the top for women

29/03/2016 - 10:59

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SPECIAL REPORT: The number of women serving on company boards is slowly one the rise, but it’s still rare to see a female take the chair, judging by Business Newss analysis of Western Australian company directors.

Still tough at the top for women
Michael Chaney, Colin Beckett, and Diane Smith-Gander are among WA's top company directors

The number of women serving on company boards is slowly one the rise, but it’s still rare to see a female take the chair, judging by Business Newss analysis of Western Australian company directors.

The big end of town and blue chip boards are chaired by men, leaving the handful of female chairs to take on more challenging roles.

These include Diane Smith-Gander, who chairs contractor Broadspectrum.

That’s a job lots of people wouldn’t want, considering the controversy surrounding its work on offshore detention centres and the pressure from Spanish suitor Ferrovial.

Eva Skira has also come under pressure as chair of the Water Corporation, after last year’s sale of its engineering services business to RCR Tomlinson, where she is a non-executive director.

The Water Corp believes it exercised due care in managing the sale, but its assurances have not satisfied Labor’s Dave Kelly, who has repeatedly alleged impropriety.

Former Liberal MLA Cheryl Edwardes has the distinction of chairing two listed companies, but both face challenges.

Atlas Iron has been fighting for survival since iron ore prices collapsed, while Vimy Resources needs a big pick-up in uranium prices before it can become a miner.

Samantha Tough is emerging as one of Perth’s most active company directors, as chair of unlisted engineering group Aerison and non-executive director at Synergy, Saracen Mineral Holdings, Strike Resources and UK-based contractor Cape.

Ms Tough also had a brief stint as a director at farming cooperative CBH Group before switching camps to become strategy director at CBH suitor Australian Grains Champion.

Former Synergy chief executive Shirley E In't Veld, former Wesfarmers chief legal counsel Vicki Krause, and Brookfield Multiplex director Sharon Warburton have been taking on more board roles during the past year, but none as chair.

One woman who might break the mould is US-based Ann Pickard, who recently joined Woodside’s board as a non-executive director after completing a successful executive career at Shell.

Having already worked in Perth as Shell Australia chair, Ms Pickard is considered a contender to become Woodside’s next chair in 2017.

The incumbent is Perth’s most powerful company director, Michael Chaney.

He chairs Perth’s two largest listed companies – Wesfarmers and Woodside – and is chancellor at the University of Western Australia.

Mr Chaney also has the rare distinction of being widely known and respected on the national stage, something very few Perth-based directors can claim.

Other prominent company chairs in Perth include former Chevron executive Colin Beckett, who heads Perth Airport and Western Power, and is chancellor at Curtin University.

Michael Smith’s recent career moves illustrate how life as a company director has its ups and downs.

Twelve months ago his board roles included being chair of iiNet, deputy chair of Automotive Holdings Group, and national chair of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Since then, iiNet has been taken over, he stepped down from AHG, and he resigned the AICD role after becoming enmeshed in controversy at 7-Eleven stores.

Mr Smith had to step up and become chair of 7-Eleven to help the franchise group deal with its problems.

His continuing roles include being principal at marketing consultancy Black House, and chairing family business Lionel Samson Sadleirs, and listed company Pioneer Credit.

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