Breaking into the Boardroom: Alison Taylor
- Former board member of NZ Food and Grocery Council
- Former chairman of the Breast Cancer Research Trust
Executive career: Chief operating officer Griffin’s Foods
Career history: More than 25 years’ experience at major international FMCG companies including PepsiCo, Kimberley Clark, Watties and 12 years at Goodman Fielder including New Zealand chief executive
Family: Married with two children
Arguably one of the best executives in the FMCG market, Alison Taylor accepted her first listed company directorship with shower and tapware-maker Methven last year.
Having been told the first high-quality directorship role can be difficult to clinch, Ms Taylor had given herself plenty of time to find the right boardroom seat and says it took a lot longer to find the right board than anticipated.
While the concept of the glass ceiling was not something she has encountered for some time in business, she was surprised to feel it still exists in the boardroom.
“I felt as if I was time-travelling 20 years and I was back as a 21-year-old woman looking for a job in a male-dominated industry.
“Of all the interviews I had, the thing that interested people most was my marketing background. But I also offer the broader commercial experience of running a business,” she says.
Business principles similar
NZX-listed Methven was also recruiting to fill a marketing gap on its board and its small, five-member board has been incredibly welcoming and open to its newest member and first female appointment.
Shower and tapware involves a different pace from the rapid turnaround of the FMCG industry but core business principles are similar.
“In governance you are not running the business, you are there to ensure it runs well.”
She spends lots of time reading the board material but says what has been more important is spending time with people from the business.
“It’s important the chief executive is not your only point of contact with the company.
“You can read all the reports you like but when you eyeball people you get a feel for it and empathy for their challenges.”Having managed Goodman Fielder’s $1 billion New Zealand business in her mid-30s, Ms Taylor has had her fair share of challenge.
She says she has had incredible male role models in her career. Working under Graeme Hart was a phenomenal learning curve and developed her as commercial businesswomen.
“Successful people often go through experiences that push them beyond the point they are at. You have to seek out those experiences sometimes – it’s not often they land in your lap.”
Giving advice for career advancement generally – she says people have to put themselves in the situation where they are available for new challenges.
“I struggle with minority groups getting together to discuss the fact they are not getting a fair crack at things.
“I think people have a norm and, if you are not their ‘norm,’ you just have to persevere a bit more.”
Ms Taylor is not a fan of quota systems to boost the representation of females on boards.
“Quotas encourage the wrong behavior. People should be there on capability and talent and if you’re in a market where all the best suited people are men, then let them be men.”
The way to open up more board roles to women comes about by people talking about it, she says.
“As time marches on and the current pool [of directors] retires, I think you will start to see more women operating at that level.”
Governance roles are well suited to women, given the flexibility it offers.
“It’s a shame there are not more organisations trying to match successful women to opportunities as opposed to more quotas.”
What makes a good director?
“To be a good director you need to understand and have lived through a few cycles of business, understand the commercial levers and recognise, in the data coming through to you, the positive signs that drive business success and the negative ones that drive failure,” Ms Taylor says.
“And you have to have the backbone to call it as a board.”
Ms Taylor says long-term she sees governance as the next transition in her career but there is no rush to make the board room a fulltime job.
“I don’t see any downsides in doing both at the moment. Methven is broadening my horizons and adds to my capability for Griffin’s,” she says.