US-based kiwi Claudia Batten who can talk business while trying on shoes, now shares tips for a ‘great’ board
Claudia Batten went from dorky tall kid to creating several successful businesses. She shares some insights on how to build great boards and how businesses need to get ready for the disruptions caused by technology.
US-based Kiwi Claudia Batten will openly admit she is digitally obsessed. From her roots in commercial law, she has been a founding member of two highly successful entrepreneurial ventures.
As part of the founding team of Massive Incorporated, a network for advertising in video games, she helped pioneer “digital” as a media buy. Massive was sold to Microsoft in 2006, Claudia then spent 3 years scaling the in-game network.
In 2009 she co-founded Victors & Spoils, the first advertising agency built on the principles of crowdsourcing. After two years in market, V&S was majority acquired by French holding company Havas Worldwide.
In 2014 Claudia cofounded Broadli with Ale Lariu and Mary Abraham to redefine how we use digital connectivity to power networking.
Claudia was most recently appointed to run North American operations for NZTE, supporting New Zealand business as they grow internationally into that market.
Claudia Batten talks to Henri Eliot on corporate governance, entrepreneurship and leadership.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
From being a dorky tall kid, to studying law and commerce, to taking some great risks in my career – every step I take informs who I am and how I lead. I have massive empathy and really care about the people I am working with. I want everyone around me to succeed. While I compete relentlessly with myself, I am not competitive within my team. It’s all about the team win, and the team wins when we grow and succeed as individuals first. The business win ALWAYS follows that.
What do you think distinguishes a “great”board from a “good” board?
A great board is internally connected. They talk between board meetings, sharing information and learnings and maybe the odd fashion tip (Team Serko did a little shopping recently post a full on couple of days of business meetings). And ultimately they trust and respect the views and perspectives of each board member. And to be able to do that you actually need to take the time to get to know your fellow board members. I personally don’t think that happens over board dinners and formal get-togethers. It happens through sharing a cab to a board meeting, chatting between board meetings, reading articles published by your fellow board members, and generally looking beyond the board table.
What are some of the levers that you have seen boards use effectively to drive organisational performance?
This is an excellent question and one with enormous depth and likely many right answers. I think it ultimately comes down to the classic need for a clearly articulated vision. If your CEO cannot articulate where the company needs do go, and WHY the company is heading there, it is very challenging (if not impossible) to get all the key people in the organisation oriented for optimal performance.
This is infinitely more critical today than it ever was because there are so many rapidly changing influences on a business from technological changes to global forces, to new markets entrants and even fundamental elements like the way we work.
This is the first generation that has truly been able to remote work, which is why I was so fascinated by crowdsourcing (and built a business on the principles of crowdsourcing). So the best thing I think the board can do is interrogate the CEO’s vision and support them to lead effectively so that the organisation can be as flexible in its pursuit of that vision as possible. It’s a simple answer but we often get the simple things so wrong.
What do you think are some of the emerging challenges that boards are likely to face over the next decade?
I have answered it in part above – our world is in a massive state of change, we are adapting to technology so quickly and technology is evolving so quickly, our world in five years will not be recognisable.
This will be the biggest emerging challenge: to keep pace with technological change and how it impacts your business. It requires keeping an eye on trends but also having a creative, or I like to say curious, mind to see how they will impact the business.
We have not begun to scratch the surface of the disruption and evolution that digital will bring to our world, let alone businesses. If there is no other reason to have youth on your board, this is it.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
First, be obsessed with the problem you are trying to solve in the market. Wake up in the morning thinking about it, talk to people at cocktail parties about it, read books on the beach about it, obsessed.
Second, don’t rush to build a board, build a broader advisory board and see who fits best with the direction it heads. Your business will not follow a straight line and you need to build flexibility into it from the start to allow it to go where it needs to.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work is my passion and so it is my life. For example, my day started at 3.30am to fly on a Saturday to New York for the start of NZTE office visits. Saturday because I was in Austin with another team and flying home (to Colorado) seemed counterproductive. Do I need to push myself this hard, no. Do I love pushing myself like this, absolutely. But I am not a cyborg and I do need moments. I am getting off the plane and meeting a fellow entrepreneur for what our calendar request calls “Gab and Shop”. We will talk business while trying on shoes. That’s balance right?
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Too many to mention but two stand out. My board experience has been informed and in part guided by Sir John Anderson who has been an inspiration throughout my career. Sir John is that incredible combination of kind and tough; if I can be measured against him as the benchmark, I have succeeded. Sarah Robb O’Hagan is the other person who stands out for me. Sarah is big-hearted, fun and brilliant. She gets shit done without drama or ego, always rallies incredible teams around her and trusts them to get the job done.