Adding value to New Zealand businesses and being able to bring a fresh cultural lens and strategic eye at a board level inspired Chinese-born Aucklander Carol Cheng to join the Institute of Directors’ Future Directors programme.
Cheng recently spent 12 months as a Future Director on the board of the Financial Markets Authority (FMA). Although she didn’t have voting rights, she says she was treated just like a board member, undergoing the same induction programme and getting the same board papers. “I feel like this programme basically brought the best practice of governance to life for me. It has definitely improved my understanding of directors’ responsibilities and also of corporate governance.”
Born and educated in China, with further education in New Zealand leading to a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Auckland, Cheng now runs her own boutique accounting and consulting firm, Hong Consulting. The business specialises in connecting New Zealand businesses with potential Chinese investors, as well as advisory services to New Zealand companies doing business in China.
“I’ve worked in New Zealand for more than 10 years now, and I’ve also worked in China. I come from a different cultural background and I try to bridge that cultural gap and help people.”
With China now the largest trading partner for New Zealand, Cheng says New Zealand businesses need to think about how they should be doing business in China and how to deal with Chinese partners. “Sometimes I get frustrated with companies that have a lack of strategy when they’re dealing with Asian countries. They need to assess the risks of dealing with another culture and another country, and they need people with experience working in that country and that culture, who can contribute at a strategic level and a board level.”
“My passion is about adding value to a company, and that’s what led me to consider yes, with my skill set and experience, I should step up and do this governance learning.”
Cheng says getting to know directors and senior executives at the FMA has been invaluable. “This programme to me, is also about the relationships, the networks and also the friendships. I’m just so happy I got to know the FMA board members and also the senior executive team.”
FMA director Vanessa Stoddart was Cheng’s mentor during her year with the FMA board. “Vanessa provided support and not only inspired and guided me, she also sometimes challenged me. She would pose meaningful questions to me and make me explore the options, rather than just giving me the answers,” Cheng says.
Stoddart also encouraged Cheng to reach out to the other FMA board members. “I practically got a one-to-one coaching session from each of them,” Cheng says. “In 12 months I actually got nine coaches – each of them had a coffee session with me, and each of them provided practical tips and guidance for me.”
As well as being able to add a fresh cultural lens to a board table, Cheng also brings a wealth of audit and financial expertise. “I asked the board if I could also observe the audit and risk committee, because I consider that is my strength and somewhere I could make a contribution based on my 20 years of professional experience.”
Cheng says joining the IoD and doing the Future Directors programme were some of the best decisions she’s made. “It’s been an invaluable experience. I encourage, not just other potential Future Directors like me, but other organisations, to look at a programme like this. I feel like I’ve gained real experience as a director and I’m looking forward to applying for director roles where I think I can add value. I feel like I’ve been trained and am now director-ready.”