The liability that comes with being a non-executive director doesn’t necessarily deter people from taking on the role, David Gonski, the well known businessman and public figure has said during a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday evening.

Gonski also noted that the amount of time directors spend with boards on what he described as “excessive” regulation is a problem for effective leadership.

He added that non-executive directors need to have an “ear to the community” to be able to feed back to the board and management what the community expects of the company.

“Social license is a term that’s bandied around. Everyone, not just public companies, private companies or individuals, we all have to value the community we are in, otherwise you can’t expect the community to take your products, and basically look after you unless you give back in some way. If social license means that, then I believe in it strongly,” he said during an hour-long interview with Conexus Financial chief executive Colin Tate as part of Investment Magazine’s Redefining Leadership series in partnership with MLC.

“I became a director when I was 28, I don’t remember spending much time on regulation, we left it to law firms… Now everything is about regulation. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, but boards need enough time to think about the future, strategy and try to rise above the immediacy of regulation,” he said.

Despite increasing liability falling on the shoulders of directors in light of post-Hayne Royal Commission regulation, Gonski said he is not aware of liability deterring people from taking directorships.

Gonski, who is chairman of ANZ and Coca-Cola Amatil, chancellor of the University of New South Wales and President of the Art Gallery of NSW Trust, touched on his early childhood, diversity on boards, societal adaption to the Covid pandemic, his Jewish and South African background as well as the education system.

He devoted most of the interview discussing leadership and the attributes of a successful leader, which he said required both imagination and focus.

Register here for the next episode in the Redefining Leadership Series on September 25 featuring an interview with Kerry Kennedy, the American human rights activist and writer.

Smith is head of content and managing editor of Professional Planner and Investment Magazine.
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