Understanding a board’s role; insights from the APAL Chair

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a board of directors (board), or more specifically the APAL Board; how it benefits the Australian apple and pear industry and how it is working towards a better future for growers? Your questions might be answered here.

Upon joining APAL as chair, Michele Allan set key performance indicators to help get the best outcomes for the organisation.

Following the recent re-election of APAL Chair, Michele Allan, and questions around the role of the board and chair at the recent Annual General Meeting (AGM), APAL would like to provide some insight into these roles and why they are important to the organisation and our industry. This is also an opportunity to share what the APAL Board is specifically doing for the industry and how APAL’s new strategy is paving the way for a strong future for Australian apple and pear growers.

“To make it clear, the role of a board is to govern, direct and monitor an organisation’s business, affairs and operations in two broad areas: overall organisation performance and overall compliance/conformance.

The role of the chair is to provide leadership for the board. The chair will have strong corporate governance knowledge; be able to facilitate leadership; build a strong working relationship with the CEO; understand the financial aspects of board responsibilities; and be able to develop people through evaluating performance, succession planning and executive remuneration.”

SOURCE: aicd.companydirectors.com.au Director Tools

Michele’s appointment as chair

Following the retirement of former chair, John Lawrenson, Michele was appointed to the role on 1 January 2015. Michele joined APAL as an independent chair which means she had no specific background in the apple and pear industry. Michele did however, have a deep understanding of Australian agriculture and agri-politics, extensive knowledge of industry practices and procedures, and an interest in food innovation – which made her a great fit for the role. In addition, Michele’s experience as both a director and chair – she is a director on eight boards, including APAL’s, and chairs three of these – ensures we have the highest level of professionalism at our table.

When Michele joined the board, one of the first actions she took was to develop a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to assist her in achieving the requirements of the role ensuring the best outcomes for the organisation.

“I conduct my own due diligence before I commence a new role to help understand where the business is currently placed. When I joined the organisation, I discovered there was not a position description for the CEO with matching KPIs. The agreed KPIs between the CEO and the board ensure an agreed direction and accountability to the board. Therefore, we developed these based on my experience in other industries and through the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ guidelines,” Michele explained.

During this process, the board decided it would be more effective for the CEO to do the ground-work and visit each growing region with their nominated director. Michele’s efforts would then be focused on utilising her skills to make APAL a stronger organisation, understanding the international Pink Lady® business and APAL’s involvement with Coregeo®.

Importance of strategic direction

“When reviewing an organisation, I look at the financials, the constitution – which the board is bound by, the business strategy and the capabilities of the current board members and their willingness to do the job,” said Michele.

“APAL had a good foundation with a team of passionate board members but there were some areas of the business I was unclear about and my need to understand this information has guided the way I’ve done my job. For one, Pink Lady has become a very successful business, but it needed a different future strategy given the changing environment.”

Michele added that APAL, the organisation, was also operating without a board-agreed strategy. Strategic direction is important for a company as it helps the organisation plan and track progress from year to year; helps understand the organisation’s strengths and weaknesses; and where any skills or knowledge gaps may be.

“Our CEO, Phil Turnbull, has developed the new APAL strategy which allows us to allocate our resources effectively with the approach of constantly improving the performance of APAL for its members. It also helps understand the environment we’re operating in,” said Michele.

“A well-crafted strategy gives the organisation direction, purpose and helps achieve the businesses goals.”

Good governance, good business

Another key aspect of the chair’s role is governance. There are strict guidelines and rules that govern the way a board can operate. One of the more significant is ensuring board members have no conflicts of interest with the APAL business or, if they do, they are declared and managed. This is something which chairs are diligent about and continue to review with directors, at every board meeting, throughout the term.

To assist in board development, APAL Board members now participate in professional development sessions to ensure they understand their obligations including, but not limited to, directors’ responsibilities, APAL’s constitution and financial awareness (including balance sheet, profit and loss statements and ratios). This also helps them determine which financial information to pay attention to and how to understand the movement of the numbers. Not all board directors come with a natural understanding for financial accounting. Each board meeting includes a half-day strategy session to ensure APAL Directors are developing along with the business and the industry. To date these sessions have focused on Pink Lady, Coregeo, advocacy and policy.

“As a board, we’ve begun to understand that APAL and the Pink Lady side of the business have been operating as two separate businesses with Pink Lady funding industry initiatives without our growers understanding or even seeing those benefits,” explained Michele.

“The introduction of the current APAL strategy will guide the new, unified business, helping us strive to support Australian apple and pear growers using our influence with Hort Innovation and our international businesses to continually improve our industry.”

The value our chair brings

Michele’s positions on other boards across the food, agriculture and innovation industries and her interest in rural research and development mean she is in regular contact with the Minister and Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources; Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science; and leaders in Hort Innovation, delivering greater exposure for APAL and horticulture.

“I enjoy learning about different industries and planning ways to improve that organisation, not only for the stakeholders and members, but for the wider Australian population,” said Michele.

“My last executive role involved running a company with a 24/7 focus on that one organisation. Working as a professional chair and board member, I get to prepare for a range of meetings, work with various CEOs on an ongoing basis and learn about a range of opportunities in industries I wouldn’t be able to if I was tied to one organisation.”

Meet the APAL Board and APAL Chair

APAL is participating in the annual conference Hort Connections 2018, with a specially designed program for apple and pear industry members on Monday, 18 June. There will be an opportunity to meet with members of the APAL team including staff, board members and the chair. For more information visit: apal.org.au/event/hort-connections-2018/.


Current board positions

  • Apple and Pear Australia Limited: Chair; Chair of Remuneration Committee
  • Charles Sturt University: Chancellor (of the board); Chair of Chancellors Forsighting Committee; Member of the Investment Committee.
  • CRC Food Agility: Non-Executive Director
  • CSIRO: Non-Executive Director; member of the Science Strategy Committee
  • Food and Agriculture Growth Centre: Non-Executive Director
  • Grain Growers: Non-Executive Director; Chair Investment Committee
  • Innovation and Science Australia: Non-Executive Director; Member of the Cooperative Research Centre Advisory Committee
  • Meat and Livestock Australia: Chair of the Board; Chair Remuneration Committee
By |February 21st, 2018|APAL|

About the Author:

Communications and Events Officer, Apple and Pear Australia
rzealley@apal.org.au
03 9329 3511