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Q&A Series with Women on Boards

Anne McMullin

Anne McMullin: “The most important thing for a board is to look for people who have integrity, intelligence, experience and a diversity of views”

Anne McMullin is the CEO of the Urban Development Institute Pacific Region (UDI). UDI is an association of the real estate and building industry that creates communities, supports thousands of B.C. jobs and drives billions of dollars in economic activity. Anne has more than 20 years of experience in government relations & public engagement. She has worked as the President and General Manager of the North Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, a Director of Communications at what is now Port of Vancouver, and as the President of the BC Salmon Farmers' Association. She was also a Reporter at 107.1 Mountain FM in Squamish and what is now Global TV in Vancouver.

Q: What drew you to real estate development industry?

A: I was head hunted for the job. I had previously worked in the resource sector, as well as other industries with similar issues and obstacles as the real estate industry. Additionally, I was very involved with the Chamber of Commerce and spoke out publicly in favor of a number of initiatives around increasing housing supply on the North Shore, with a focus on creating a stronger and more populous community.

I always like to be at the center of the economic story in the work that I do. I was in the forest industry and at BC Salmon Farmers' Association during the War of the Woods, and we got that solved by getting new legislation in place. I left that and went on to the Port Authority [Port of Vancouver] where we brought about changes to the Canada Marine Act, allowing the port industries to invest in the ways that you see now. These included the Delta Port Third Berth at the container terminal, and the rules and restrictions around the port authorities to allow for borrowing. So, I think that when this real estate industry opportunity came to me, it was a good fit.

Q: How did you get on your first board?

A: I almost simultaneously got on boards of the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the Jack Webster Foundation, my first boards. I was appointed to the board of Vancouver Maritime Museum because of my work with the Port Authority. With the Jack Webster Foundation, it was because of my role in the business community and I am also a former journalist.

Since then, I have done a lot of volunteer work. The Canadian Olympic Committee appointed me to the board of Field Hockey Canada. I had previously been the President of the West Vancouver Field Hockey Club, which is the largest field hockey club in North America. I have also served on the Knowledge Network board, and am currently on the board of UBC Properties Trust.

Q: What types of boards have you served on?

A: I have been on both governance and operational boards. I have sort of run the gamut: The Knowledge Network board was very much a governance board, while my role as director on the Board of UBC Properties Trust is relatively new, it does incorporate both governance and operation elements. The Field Hockey Canada was mainly governance but then also incorporated operational elements when there were staff changes in coaching and the club.

I think that a potential board member has to remain flexible, and the duties can really vary, depending on the company and its resources. Typically, a well-funded for-profit organization is more of a governance board. Non-for profit boards tend to be more operational.

I have also done a lot of board restructuring work, in particular with both Field Hockey Canada and West Vancouver Field Hockey. With both of those, the objective was to take it away from being an operational board and transition to more of a governance type board.

Q: In your experience, how relevant has the idea of board diversity been during your board service over the years?

A: Board diversity is important. I think that we have to seek out for the very best first and then, hopefully, find the best of a diverse group. Some put diversity first, but I think you need to have a combination of qualities. I believe the most important traits are integrity, intelligence, experience and diverse experience. Have I been put on board because of my gender? I don't know. Perhaps I have, but I think that if I did not have those qualities first and foremost, I wouldn’t have been appointed. In many cases I know specifically that I was appointed to that board because of my diverse experience as a journalist, a British Columbian etc.

Q: How do the boards you serve/served on source new members?

A: Typically through a nominating committee or another similar group. If you can demonstrate in the business community your accomplishments, then you become known as somebody who can get things done.

Q: What qualifications and characteristics do you look for in a new board member?

A: For me it is an accumulation of experience over time. Understanding how boards work is a good asset. I had roles where I reported directly to the board of directors when I was in BC Salmon Farmers' Association and Port Authority, so I got a lot of experience in seeing how boards worked.

If you’re interested in being on a board, I would encourage you to start in your own community. Volunteer locally and seek out boards in your community. It could be the local neighborhood house, a Chamber of Commerce or whatever organization you are a part of, e.g. your sports team. The more you get involved, the more opportunities you will have. Eventually, people will start to seek you out. Additionally, make your intentions clear through networking. You know how you apply for a job – it is the same way that you build your career on boards.

Q: From your own experience, what are some best practices that help to encourage diversity on boards and among management?

A: A diverse group of people will bring a diverse range of views. You need to look at the board make-up and see if everybody is thinking the same way, and if they are, then it needs to be changed. I think that you have to be very careful about your approach and ask first: how do we find the best in X [e.g. accounting] in whatever diversity group that you are looking for? Do they have an understanding of the organization? What kind of value do they add? Achieving diversity is not is not only picking a blue, red or green person but also finding the best in the skills you are seeking.

Interview by:
Elena Tikhomirova, Director of Strategic Initiatives - Women on Boards