Breaking into the Boardroom: Rukumoana Schaafhausen
- Waikato Tainui Te Kauhanganui
- Genesis Energy
- Regional Facilities Auckland
- In-house counsel with Landco Land Developments (now Todd Property)
- Lawyer at Russell McVeagh and Glaister Ennor
Family: Married with two children under six
Rukumoana Schaafhausen’s baptism into governance came when she was a 23-year-old law school graduate, appointed to the board of Waikato-Tainui Te Kauhanganui, the governance entity set up to manage treaty settlement funds of $170 million for Waikato Tainui.
She took her seat at the board table soon after the 1995 settlement with the Crown – a challenging time for all involved, especially for Tainui as the first iwi to negotiate a treaty settlement.
Appointment followed to Tainui Group Holdings, the investment arm for Tainui Group, from which she retired last year.
“Governance has definitely been a career path I have sought. And not just any board but those that align with my values and where I know I can add value.”
Mrs Schaafhausen recalls feeling excited and intimidated sitting around the Genesis Energy board table for the first time alongside chairwoman Dame Jenny Shipley – one of her respected leaders and role models.
“But I came back to, why am I here? There was lots of self-talk, reminding myself I don’t have to be like everyone else around the table.”
She has never felt any element of ethnic tokenism in her board room appointments.
“I don’t know if Genesis Energy was specifically looking for Maori diversity appointments but one thing I admire about that board is it understands who the stakeholders are and Maori /iwi are key stakeholders in the company.
“But even if that is how you get in the door [as a women or member of a minority ethnic group], you still have to prove yourself in that space.”
She’s keenly aware of this now, in her second term on the Genesis board.
“No one says it but you’re given a grace period to earn your stripes or come up to speed. There is an expectation that what they saw in you will pay off.”
Mrs Schaafausen has always felt well-supported in the boardroom and access to professional advice has helped her grow. “You meet top consultants along the way who you learn from but at the end of the day you have to make the call yourself.
“Governance is a serious game. You are required to lead and serve; protect and empower all at the same time. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.”
Know your story and back yourself
For talented potential directors who may think they are wasting their time applying for board positions because they are young, Mrs Schaafausen, who left school at 15, has this advice: “Know your story, know who you are and back yourself.
“You may not have 30 years’ experience in strategic planning or finance but you have something you can add to the mix of skills around the table. Know what that is, know how to articulate it, back yourself and go for it.
“To withhold your ideas and talent from the board conversation for fear of saying something dumb could cost the thing that attracts the greatest revenue.
“And be your own person, because that is what they are looking for. You don’t need a whole lot of the same thing.
“A senior male director once told me I shouldn’t aspire to be a director while I was so young and I needed to wait until I had more life experience.
“That’s the mindset some of the older generation has but that’s changing.”
Governance provides Mrs Schaafhausen necessary flexibility as a mother of two boys under six, but it’s still challenging to stay relevant.
She takes the opportunity to attend as many conferences as she can and, as a member of Global Woman, has just been invited to the Apec Women Leadership Forum in Beijing.