Taking five with Kathryn Fagg AO
Rebecca Gundalech, 4 September, 2019
Kathryn Fagg AO is one of Australia’s most experienced company directors. Chair of the international construction materials giant Boral Limited, Kathryn is also on the boards of listed companies Incitec Pivot Limited and Djerriwarrh Investments as well as CSIRO. She began her career as a chemical engineer with Esso Australia, and went on to hold global senior executive roles with McKinsey & Co, ANZ Banking Group, BlueScope Steel and Linfox. Kathryn was a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia for five years until 2018, and is the immediate Past President of Chief Executive Women.
What has been your career highlight to date?
Since becoming a Non-Executive Director, the two highlights have been becoming Chairman of Boral last year, and before that, serving as a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia. As an executive, I loved the roles where I had responsibility for big businesses, particularly internationally - which included President Asia for BlueScope Steel and General Manager for Retail Banking for ANZ in New Zealand. And I feel incredibly fortunate that I started my career as a chemical engineer with Esso Australia (Exxon Mobil) which meant I was regularly offshore in the Bass Strait on the oil and gas platforms and then had the rigorous education around strategy and change management through consulting with McKinsey & Co.
What leadership values are important to you?
I am going to start with the values which I think are incredibly important to be a good member of society more generally - so being intrinsically decent and respectful of others, being open and honest, and acting with integrity. In terms of leadership, I also look for courage, curiosity, resilience, intelligence and savviness, gravitas, sound judgement, a passion for people, and ideally a sprinkling of charisma - as well as an enthusiasm for taking responsibility for the wellbeing and performance of a team or an organisation.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Boral today?
Over recent times, Boral has dramatically reshaped its portfolio of businesses - including moving out of bricks in Australia, significantly increasing our presence in North America through the $3 billion acquisition of the Headwaters corporation, and expanding our major joint venture in Asia with the German company Knauf. Our focus over the coming years is to really deliver on the benefits of this transformation of our portfolio, whilst responding to the challenges of significant economic uncertainty. We also will have a change in CEOs in the next couple of years - and CEO succession is always one of the most significant decisions for a Board.
What excites you about the future of your industry?
I really love Boral - it is a really good company with great people that deliver products that make a big difference to our communities. Living here in Australia, I am really delighted to see the increased level of investment in infrastructure because we know it will make a big difference to our economic and social well being. And it is impossible not to be excited about what is happening in Asia - the growth and development of the construction and building sector are so rapid. Finally, we are really positive about the opportunity we have in North America, particularly the US, where we have the number one or two position in the product markets we are in. That is a great place to be.
Can you give us a sneak preview of what you will speak about at the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum?
I am really looking forward to the questions that Kerry O'Brien will ask. I am a big fan. But, I look forward to talking about my career, starting from high school in Gladstone - and the critical career decisions I made along the way which enabled to work across a number of sectors, which is unusual. In particular, I will touch on how I got to take on big business leadership roles and found trade-offs that worked for me to meet professional and personal priorities. I also look forward to talking about leading boards and businesses when there are lower levels of trust in our community.
Kathryn Fagg AO will join us for the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum on Thursday 24 October 2019. To find out more, visit the QUT Business Leaders’ Forum.