Introducing Jen Butler

6 min read
Apr 5, 2023 9:34:14 AM

Get to know the founder of Absolute Gems, Jen Butler

BoardPro is excited to introduce Jen Butler, a Board Specialist and the founder of AbsoluteGems Limited. Absolute Gems provides support to Boards and executives, particularly in guaranteeing quality board minutes, strategy, planning and governance expertise. Absolute Gems helps you take care of the daily administrative tasks of Board management, so you can focus on engaging with your team in a meaningful manner and working towards company goals.

Jen ButlerButler herself brings over 20 years of experience in the governance industry to the table. In addition, she has an extensive background working as a personal assistant, having worked with Sexton Business Builders Limited, Clear Counsel Ltd and IAG New Zealand. This background in executive support perfectly complements her current work as a professional board secretary and executive assistant.

BoardPro sat down with Jen to discuss support in the governance industry, as well as the changes, challenges and growth she has witnessed throughout her time as a business professional. 

Q: Based on your more than 20 years of experience in the governance sector, what would you identify as the single most pressing issue facing Boards across the industry today?

Tough question - each Board faces its own challenges, but for governance, I believe getting the right board member is the single most pressing challenge. The process of evaluating the skills the Board needs to progress its strategy, the skills and personality types of existing board members to create the profile of an ideal candidate is akin to finding the perfect partner! Once you know who you need finding that unicorn can be difficult. Those that have the experience and expertise in governance perform critical due diligence when invited to a board as they understand the personal and fiduciary responsibility of being a director. Finding someone with the right skills that adds diversity of thought to the Board is even harder. Once you've found the right person with the right skill set that is willing to join your Board - will they be a good fit for the existing Board? 

absolute gems

Q: What key change can Boards implement to become more efficient in their daily operations?

That's easy - they can add a professional board secretary and BoardPro. I've seen my clients' governance game lifted tremendously by having the right people and tools for governance. I know governance resources can often be a grudge purchase (we don't want to, but we kinda have to). A good board secretary will take care of all the compliance stuff so the Board can focus on strategy and planning - the fun stuff. 

Q: What insight has your background as a PA provided for your work as a Board specialist? What advice would you give to anyone pursuing a similar career route?

You know, I've recently been looking for someone to join my business, and I didn't think what I did was that special - I thought anyone with good PA experience could be trained to do what I do. Yeah, I was wrong about that! My PA background and working with boards definitely provided me with a step in the right direction, and the foundation of MS suite and professional writing is a must. But, it was working with professional independent directors on a variety of boards and having the benefit of their years in service that I needed (thanks Giselle and John). The Institute of Directors' Four Pillars is the bible for governance - my advice is to start there and once you've read this 3-4 times, move on to the legislation!

Q: How can members at all levels of organisations better work together to support the long term goals of the Board and thus organisation?

A cohesive, inclusive Board brings an organisation together. While performance and monitoring goals are important, I believe that these are driven by culture. It is not taboo to invite staff members to a board meeting - in fact, the Board gets good insights, and the staff member(s) feel important and heard. It's also not taboo to turn up to staff morning tea's, invite staff out for a coffee and chat (clear this with the CE and Chair first!) A Board - Staff newsletter is a great start to demystifying "what does the board actually talk about".

Q: How does the level and nature of support provided (and needed) change with remote versus hybrid or in-office work?

Not that much. The majority of my work is remote, and I find that good discipline and process is essential to make this work. Products like Teams, Sharepoint, Dropbox etc, make sharing and collaborating easy. Hybrid meetings are the most difficult as those in the room tend to forget about those on screen. This is something I discuss with my Chair in our pre-meeting briefing.  

Q: What growth have you witnessed throughout your time in the governance industry? Do you believe that Boards are successfully moving towards more diverse, inclusive, future-thinking formats?

I want to say yes, but that is because I know my boards are! I think most boards recognise the value of diversity, inclusivity and areas like Social Environmental Governance, skills development in governance and wider participation on boards, but I don't think we are there yet. There is a big difference between knowing what we should do and actively working to make it happen. Diversity is difficult because being in your own echo chamber is the comfort zone - go directly to GO and collect $200! Every month. In my experience, being open to being uncomfortable and challenged is not something that 'traditional' board members do well. It is, however, in my humble opinion, the mark of a successful and well-run board.

Q: What changes do you envision for the next 20 years in the governance sector? What challenges do you anticipate, reflecting back on the past 20 years?

The world is definitely going fully digital at a great rate of knots. Governance practice will be fully online in the next 5-10 years.  Begone paper agendas and signed copies of minutes! I also think that board meetings will become more efficient and effective resulting in shorter meeting times. Strategy and planning will include environmental considerations as well as culture building at the forefront to drive financial drivers rather than financial goals and metrics being the only measurables. Wellness will become part of a senior employee's and director's remuneration, as will training and development with clear growth paths.

Challenges for the next 20 years:  

  • The growth rate of technology and the effect of AI on business insight
  • The risk related to director responsibility and appetite to be a director
    Economic stability
  • Climate change, food shortages and knowing better, do better requirements on business supply chains
  • Retention and recruitment - people value

Q: As a BoardPro partner, please share why BoardPro's software is such a valuable tool for Boards and organisations

I'm not a BoardPro partner, I'm completely independent of BoardPro - it just so happens that as governance is the centre of my business, it is imperative that I regularly evaluate what the best product in the market is and it is BoardPro.  

BoardPro offers a complete package governance tool - you don't have to buy modules at extra cost, you aren't reliant on BoardPro to manage your site, and you can add board members and guests and change security settings in seconds.  
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The automation is excellent - action and meeting reminders and the fact that minutes, actions and interest registers are able to be automatically added to each meeting is a massive time saver. Other tools purport to have these features but beware, some are not what they seem and are simply templates that need downloading and adding manually to the next board pack!  

The fact that BoardPro actively seeks feedback from its users in its idea's portal shows that they really have its customer's needs top of mind when it comes to its development roadmap. Speaking of customer service, 1-two minute wait time on their chat is amazing because, let's face it, when you need help, you need it right then and there - being able to ask for help during a board meeting and getting an instant response from a real person is invaluable.  

All of this leads to excellent value for money. The pay-per-company/committee model gives businesses the flexibility to use the package as they want to without the restriction of pay-per-user. It also gives certainty of the cost for budgeting purposes.

As a board secretary, the time saving, consistency and automation all make for seamless governance. 


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