Rob Campbell has over 25 years’ experience in governance and capital markets. He is Chair of Guinness Peat Plc and Summerset Group Ltd. Rob is a board member of Aquasure Pty Ltd, CallPlus Ltd, Turners and Growers Ltd and a number of private companies and investment funds. He is also on the investment committee for a number of public and private companies as well as advising a number of investment funds globally.

Henri Eliot talks to Rob Campbell about his perspectives on corporate governance.

What is the role of a board from your perspective?

Each situation is somewhat different. I am wary of general rules in such matters. One has to look at the specific issues which the business has and this is different between businesses and over  time. The board is allocated some specific and generic responsibilities by law which it must discharge, and find an efficient and effective way to do so. But beyond that I am an advocate of an activist board in two respects . First being fully aware of and responsive to or the leader of the need for change in a business. This is not whether change is necessary (it is) but rather what kind of change is necessary. Then secondly being activist outside of the business, promoting its interests and recognising and conveying opportunities.

Looking forward five years, do you think the board dynamic will change?

One would certainly hope that every board five years from now will have a good number of different people on it, different procedures and priorities. I suspect they will do a lot more of their business in real time rather than on a monthly or quarterly schedule.

How will the next generation of board members differ and operate?

I’m one of the old buggers. No use asking me that. The next generation will necessarily chart their own path. That will be as exciting as ever. I will probably hate it.

How are we preparing the next generation board member for the future?

In our best schools and tertiary institutions I think we are preparing quite well in terms of openness and flexibility. The issue is probably more that while we will have a highly capable elite available and young ages, our overall workforce may be lagging in terms of meeting the demands placed on them and having the right support and incentives during their working life to provide their potential to the community and to business.

What gives you the most sense of achievement on a board?

It varies from business to business. At one level you realise that you never actually achieve anything – at best you help create the conditions under which others succeed. Its really just about doing the tasks well. I see each board as a project, working out what needs to be done and getting it done. So we have had great fun at GPG selling the investment assets, great fun getting Coats running well, and no doubt we will look back on resolving the pensions issue and see that as fun though it does not see that way right now. At Summerset getting the listing done and succeeding, managing the fantastic growth of the business, learning about how best to handle the critical care and clinical issues, working through a CEO transition have all been great. At Precinct working in with a highly capable and specialist team redefining how a customer driven office property company works and can transform the city centre. Working with an offshore investor here (ADIA) seeing how they bring not only capital but global skills to play here. At Turners and Growers meeting the challenges in an entirely different market like horticulture, selling that business to a much better owner in BayWa from Germany, and then staying on to work with them and a new management team to globalise some great kiwi products and trading skills. And I get a different kind of kick from early stage business like Stolen Rum and Truescape taking local brands and skills to the world. Im very conscious of how lucky I am to have such fun.

Turning back the clock, would you do anything different?

Crikey. Im glad you can’t turn back the clock.  I think in terms of the wheel of dharma turning rather than a clock. The wheel of dharma goes on forever changing – why would you want to stop and go back ?

What do you read?

Newspapers, academic journals, economics texts, business books, dharma books, spy and crime novels, magazines, information memorandums, staff newsletters, websites, and board papers and emails. Some days not all of them!

Henri Eliot is CEO of Board Dynamics