An Interview with Mr Peter Willcocks, Chair OC Connections.
Why did you decide to be a Board Director with OC Connections 12 years ago?
A recruitment consultant I was dealing with asked if I would be interested in joining the board of OC Connections. I said “yes”. I was at a time in my life where I thought it would be nice to give something back. I’ve had advantages in the world that others have not. I understood that there are people in our community for whom life has not been easy. I wanted to help those people. Also, I hadn’t been on a board before and I thought it would be a good experience.
Can you tell me why you have given 12 years of service?
I’ve really enjoyed it! That’s the reason. There will come a time when I must leave the board and hopefully I will know when that time is. In the meantime, it’s been a very enjoyable and worthwhile experience. I’ve liked the people I’ve worked with, particularly my fellow directors. I also enjoy working with Therese and senior management. It really is a great experience and I enjoy coming out here.
How do your personal values align with the values of OC Connections?
I think that everyone, in an ideal world, should be given an equal opportunity, yet, we aren’t. If I can do a little bit to remedy that and to help those who have not had those opportunities, through no fault of their own, I think I should. I think those who are better off are obliged to help those who are worse off, and I think modern society has lost some of that.
Many of our participants are people who have had less opportunity and less choice in their lives. I think we should assist in giving them more opportunity and choice than they have traditionally had, and the NDIS is a particularly worthwhile initiative on the part of the government to help achieve this.
Directors bring experience, wisdom, strategic thinking and contacts to their role. Can you say more about your experience as a Director?
The role of Director is a difficult role because you are bringing experience, an outside viewpoint and other expertise which may not be otherwise available to the organisation.
However, as a director, one must not get involved in operations. If you get too involved in operations, then you’re not carrying out your role. You need a helicopter view of what’s going on. That is the strength and the benefit you bring to the board.
Part of the role of Chair (which I now hold) is to ensure that directors do not get too involved in the detail. Directors must take that overall view and back off the detail. It can be very difficult to tread that fine line between being strategic and having a reasonable knowledge of the day to day operations.
The Chair has another role to play. Part of it is being the first amongst equals at meetings. They need to run the meetings, ensuring that everyone contributes, and no one dominates. The Chair must lead by example and bring disparate views together to reach a successful conclusion. The Chair is also the public face of OC Connections for all its stakeholders.
You contributed a significant amount of legal expertise/advice to the negotiation of the agreement for the accommodation redevelopment project. OC Connections was incredibly grateful for this work. Why did you offer such a large contribution?
As a corporate lawyer, I have expertise in negotiating and drafting agreements. The redevelopment needed that expertise and so it was an opportunity to directly help OC Connections. Also, the redevelopment, being the move from our congregate care facility to individual houses which took into account the needs and wants of our participants, was a hugely worthwhile project.
It also enabled me to work with DHHS who are very important to all that we do, and I believe that I was able to assist in strengthening that relationship.
What do you bring to the Board of OC Connections?
My legal training brings an ordered mind, a method of thinking things through. I think that’s why people seek out lawyers because they’ll work through every option to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
As a commercial lawyer, I bring a different view to some of the other directors and indeed some other not-for-profits. I understand that being not-for-profit doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit. I came from a background of working for small businesses trying not to go under right up to working for global corporations.
I’ve seen a lot of businesses and what they do right and wrong and I bring this expertise to the board, along with a private sector approach. It is important to balance the private sector approach with the public good.
On a personal level, I made the contribution because I wanted to give back to the community and enact change.
What do you think are the characteristics of a great Board Director?
A strong moral compass, and the courage to stand up for what’s right. That’s not easy, but a great director must have that, they must be prepared to stand out from the crowd when necessary.
An example can be found in one of Christopher Skase’s companies. The deputy chair thought what they were doing was wrong. He was overruled by the board, he still said this was wrong. He didn’t resign because you are supposed try and fix the problem, not walk away from it. So, he went to ASIC. He was the lone voice and he was right. A great director must have that courage.
Fundraising is a significant obligation of board service. As Board Chair can you tell me your thoughts on this?
To date, the board has not had a strong focus on fundraising as we had several operational priorities to work through first. That’s not to say that the board should not have a greater focus on fundraising in the future – I think it should and it will.
Fundraising will become a greater focus of the board because funds raised will enable us to provide those things which the NDIS does not. Major fundraising could enable expenditure on more accommodation for persons with disabilities. Smaller fundraising will allow us to provide extras to our participants. A lot of our participants are not economically advantaged and if we can provide extra things they can’t afford and the NDIS does not provide – be it a holiday, a computer, some extra clothes. Just little things that make life so much nicer.
What do you see as the Board challenges?
The board has had to address a number of challenges that OC Connections faced for historical reasons. We’ve also had to work hard to ensure that OC Connections was on a sound financial footing operationally before the NDIS came into effect.
We had to make sure for our long-term future that OC Connections could stand on its own two feet. We also had to make a margin to provide a buffer to enable us to improve our IT systems and to enable us to manage the uncertainties the NDIS has brought.
As you look ahead, what do you see as the Board’s priorities?
We want to create greater diversity at board level. Currently, the board is made up of people of a certain age, gender and cultural background. This is an historical accident. We have been more gender-diverse in the past, but until recently we have been focussed on having directors with the skills and qualifications we were after, without much regard to also having diversity at board level. Our priority now is to have more diversity at board level without sacrificing skills, expertise and experience.
We also must ensure we adapt to and make the most of the opportunities arising out of the NDIS.
I see those as the most immediate priorities. A third priority is to expand without sacrificing the way we do what we do. We would never expand if it meant that was in jeopardy. We think we do what we do well, and it would be nice if more people could benefit.
How will you know OC is successful?
We are successful for so long as our participants and our carers say we’re doing a good job for them. That’s our only test really. Do the people we are seeking to support think we’re
doing it well? If we’re doing it well then, we’re successful, provided we continue to be financially successful as well.
Are you looking for Board Directors for OC Connections?
We are. Our priority is to have more diversity at board level without sacrificing skills, expertise and experience.
For enquiries, please contact admin@OCConnections.org or call (03) 9569 0603