Archive for the ‘Blogging with Friends’ Category

#17 of Blogging with Friends: Something about a job you have done that other people don’t (or didn’t) understand

For about 11 years, I was on the Board of Directors of a government-owned subsidiary company. For much of that time, I was Chair of the Board. (I didn’t like Chairman or Chairperson, and I thought Chairwoman sounded awkward, so I became the Chair!) Our shareholders were government entities, and a number of their CEOs sat on the Board. Needless perhaps to say, I was the only woman on the Board, although we had women in the senior management group, and I was one of only two company directors who had direct experience working in the same field and with some of the same clients as the company.

It was a small company, with great growth potential – and in fact, great growth during my time in the position. That meant that I worked very closely in supporting the company’s CEO and senior management, at a level of detail that would not have been possible in a much larger company. I had already done the same work as many of the staff members and contractors, had managed client relationships, and reported on risk and business development and growth. I was now on the other side of that, in a governance role, checking on financial and other risks, and was the employer of the CEO. I learned a huge amount about the differences between management and governance, about when it was appropriate to step in, and when I needed to step back and not interfere. It was an interesting and rewarding role, especially seeing my inputs bear fruit.

Friends saw me working on the board a few days a week, and thought it was an ideal, post-full-time-career role. I think they thought it was well paid. It was not well paid at all! But that’s not the topic of this post. What they didn’t think about was that, in New Zealand (as I am sure many other countries), company directors have legal responsibilities under the Companies Act. We were/are required to act honestly, in the best interests of their company, and with reasonable care at all times. If we ignored these duties, didn’t ask the right questions, or behaved recklessly, we could be personally liable and face prosecution. Therein lies the aspect of this job that my friends and family, and many other people, don’t think about. Fear.

Even when I knew we were dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, that we were financially rigorous about risk, and that we were taking every possible care for our staff and contractors’ health and safety (we were sending people to work in Asia during the first SARs and swine flu outbreaks), I occasionally (perhaps more often than occasionally) felt fear. It didn’t help that, unlike some high profile prosecutions around the time I was chairing the board, our company did not take or use the public’s money (unlike, for example, financial institutions), and – unusually for many businesses – we were not even in debt. So the prosecutions of directors that were in the news could not even have applied to us. Still, that fear was always there. Maybe it was a result of a lack of confidence, or a form of fraud syndrome? Maybe it was simply my level of diligence in the role? I don’t know. But I felt it regularly.

When I stepped down as Chair after six years, I felt some relief, though legally I was still just as responsible for my actions and decisions and, perhaps most importantly, my questions as I had been when I was chairing the board. A year or so later I resigned from the company to go overseas, and the relief was palpable. And not because I no longer had to deal with egotistical men who liked the sound of their own voices and had been promoted beyond their capabilities! Finally, that fear that came from such a level of responsibility was lifted. Even if the directorships boys’ clubs shutting me out of future roles were not still in operation, I admit that I would not be in a rush to invite that fear back into my life.

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#16 of Blogging with Friends

My latest Blogging with Friends topic is to talk about a time when a personal prejudice was proven completely wrong. I’m not often wrong (ask my husband), but I’m happy to admit when I am!

I have a friend who, when I first met her, was both both pretty and confident. I was immediately distrustful, prejudiced against her because of her beauty and her confidence; neither of these were qualities I possessed. We got thrown together at work, and I realised how wrong I had been.

She’s someone who isn’t as confident as I assume (though she still has plenty of confidence). But she has a quality that makes you always feel as if she is pleased to see you, and that she enjoys being in your company. I wrote this in my 365 blogging project in 2007:

“Tall, gorgeous and glamorous, effortlessly charming. I almost wanted to dislike you at first, but found it impossible! A friend who always makes me feel better about myself, and always sounds pleased to see me. …”

That quality makes her far more beautiful than good looks. I learned not to judge someone on their personal appearance. And I’m pleased to say that we have been friends for over 20 years.

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#15 of Blogging with Friends

My mother was born a Rose, and I always envied her that. It’s a beautiful name, but she then became a Rooney, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. It was common in the small farming district where I grew up thanks to my grandmother and my father and his brothers and my cousins. Otherwise it was not a common name – not one I saw in the media, or read in books, though not as unusual as that of friend who was the daughter of Dutch immigrant. But it was odd enough that people generally asked to hear it twice, and were uncertain how to spell it. I used to have to say “like Mickey” but not everyone understood the reference, despite all the replays of his movies that were shown on Sunday afternoons in the days when NZ only had one TV channel. By the 2000s, especially in Europe, it got easier. I remember in 2007 being amazed that a German hotel receptionist just nodded, and said, “yes, like the football player!” It was my first experience in many years when I didn’t have to spell the name, or think carefully whether the person listening would understand if I said, “double O.” (NZers typically spell things this way, saying “double L” or “double S” for example, but we’ve been told that others don’t do that.)

That double O has been problematic for much of my life. For some reason, a lot of people see Rooney (my surname) written down and automatically change it to Rodney. It makes sense when typed or written in upper case, but it annoys me nonetheless. A Cambodian official used to call me Rodney, which bugged me slightly, and I’ve had air crew look at my boarding pass and say, “Welcome aboard, Ms Rodney!” That’s a minor gripe though, compared with the habit a bunch of kids developed in high school, lengthening those Os, adding a few more, intoning my name and that of my cousin (in the same year) to mock us or embarrass us. When I got my AFS scholarship to Thailand, my class bought me a T-shirt with a NZ logo on the front. I was thrilled till I turned it around, and found they had written my name with four – FOUR!!! – O’s on the back. I took the T-shirt to Thailand, and wore it, and so of course, that meant my AFS friends adopted the same habit of lengthening my name, though with – I hope – more affection than mockery.

There’s obviously something about that particular combination of consonants and vowels, as ten years ago or so people started ending words with “ ….arooney.” (Search, for example, the word “fabarooney.”) I’ve even heard Stephen Fry do it on QI! I remember my friend saying it to me casually in a conversation, not even realising until I laughed and pointed out what she was doing!

And I’m not even going to begin to discuss what happens when a woman with a name beginning with an R spends a lot of time in Asia, where they have pronunciation difficulties with Rs and Ls, interchanging them frequently. Think about it.

Still, it is my name. I chose to keep it (or rather, I chose not to change to something new) when I married, sticking to my principles, happy to remain the person I’d been since my birth. I’ve never been Mrs <Husband’s name>, sticking to Ms or preferably just my first name and my surname.

And now I have another name too, also a flower name. Whilst I was given the name in 1980, I never really used it until I began blogging. I’ve been Mali (Thai for “jasmine”) for over 12 years now. I quite like the fact that I am Mali to so many, and I know I will answer to that when (I am being positive here) I eventually get to meet so many of my fellow bloggers and readers.

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