PROFILE : Judith Stanway – Public and Private: Bridging the Gap

Judith Stanway is busy. Not because she is too busy being chair of BDO Spicers New Zealand, managing partner of BDO Spicers Rotorua and chair of the Rotorua Public Health Organisation… she is spending the day with her grandchildren.
“Oh, I’d booked them in for this day several months ago,” says this successful businesswoman, highly regarded director and Fellow of the Institute of Directors, mother of four daughters and now grandmother.
Stanway took on the role of the first woman chairperson of BDO Spicers New Zealand two years ago. She admits to having encountered some resistance at first.
“At the high-level, accountancy is still male-dominated. When I was first on the board as member, I had to adapt to being the only woman, but I’m used to that now.
“I do find the rugby rivalry bit boring, but once we get that over with, it’s great.”
Under her stewardship, this body of accountancy firms under the banner of the internationally based BDO franchise has undergone major growth. Since last year alone, 39 partners and seven individually owned firms have grown to 65 partners and 12 firms.
“There have been lot of changes in accountancy firms over the past few years. We have always been the largest supplier to the middle market and we realised we needed to grow with that. Even to stay still, we needed to grow.”
Stanway led review of the board’s strategic plan which resulted in growth strategy, based around achieving full New Zealand coverage.
“We have approached some firms and sometimes people have come to us. But, it has not just been about getting in new practices, but also mergers, growing firms with an emphasis on developing service lines and the areas of expertise we offer with concerted effort to ensure the standards and training are the best.”
Chairing the board takes up at least 30 percent of Stanway’s time, but it’s not to the detriment of her work at BDO Spicers Rotorua, which she manages with two other partners.
Indeed, being chair has added value to the business. “This role has given me new ideas for my own practice and opened up new opportunities.”
However, it has required lot more from her than she anticipated with the successful expansion. Extra work is also required of her as the board has no chief executive.
“I do bit more than usual chair, but I rely on my partners in Rotorua to understand that I’m not always going to be there. They’re very good at adapting to my extra workload.”
She took on the role two years ago after deciding to step down as deputy chair of Te Puia, New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, the third most visited tourist attraction nationally.
“I’m always up for challenge. I enjoy board work, the high-level of governance and all the challenges that go with that. I also enjoy the visionary side of things and seeing it all through.”
The challenge is to pull together 65 individuals; that’s 65 individual leaders, which requires different set of skills to running normal company structure.
“As federal system you can’t just sack someone who is not supportive of changes, you have to find ways of making things work for all people. If everything we do is about adding value to the practices, then they will go along with it.
“But I am dealing with very capable, intelligent people with strong views and opinions about what should and shouldn’t be done. The challenge is to harness those and get semblance of coordination so we can go forward.”
Stanway is constantly surprised at how well the partners are responding to new ideas and developments as BDO Spicers grows – some of which can shake up their normal ways of operating. She cites the recent annual conference, attended by more than 170 members both long-term and new.
“Normally we have about 70 people. It was completely different and I was amazed at how the long-term members embraced the new people. The national network is different animal and they accepted it.
“I think it’s because we have great culture. We don’t act like bunch of bean-counters, we’re all individuals, but we all work hard together and enjoy ourselves together. One of BDO International’s beliefs in its mission statement is ‘we are one’. In New Zealand we are.”
Communication has been key focus in the process of managing the expansion, says Stanway. Whereas previously, it was more casual affair with partners keeping in touch with each other, communication now requires more formalised system with the introduction of managing partner forum. There are also various other conferences and events held for partners and staff to ensure everyone is kept abreast of events and developments.
Stanway has many years’ experience on boards, having spent the latter half of her career, as an active member and chair in public and private institutions. She took on her first director’s role with Lakeland Health in 1989, steep but effective learning curve.
“It was an excellent avenue; it’s where lot of people like me got their first experience, great way of learning what governance meant and about how the political system operated.”
She then took on the role as chair of the Health Rotorua Primary Health Organisation at its inception five years ago. And, since taking on the role of chairperson of BDO Spicers New Zealand, is becoming expert in the art of leading both public and private.
“For private, you have one set of shareholders, whereas in the public sector you sometimes have range of different people to respond to, such as community and government agencies – and they may sometimes conflict.
“But with BDO, it’s more of known quantity. I know the directors are going to fit certain mould; that is they’ll be intelligent, capable and have specific skills. Whereas, in the public, I’m dealing with people from different walks of life. I am lucky with our PHO as our members are skill-based, rather than representative-based, as are most other PHOs in the country. It is easier to work with skill-based membership, because while you can have great representatives, with skill base there is often better balance on the board.”
Stanway is supportive of the PHO structure.
“I think it’s good system, though there is still lot of shaking up to do because it is relatively new. There is however big challenge in ensuring it does not just become another layer of bureaucracy. It’s important to keep in mind what it’s there for; that is to improve the health of the community.
“Everything you take on you need to consider; is it going to make difference?” She credits her accountancy experience with giving her the skills to deal with such wide range of people and situations in the public and private sector.
“As chartered accountant you are moving from one client to another all day, from one set of views and conditions to completely different client and situation. You are changing hats constantly. I learnt very early in my accountancy career that you have to be able to change your thinking to understand the concerns and interests of the client you are talking to at the time.”
From early, Stanway has been set to manage and direct at high level. Her passion from childhood was with “understanding how the world works and how one small change can have major flow-on effect down the line”. Brought up on sheep-stud in Waverley, she studied for her Masters in Economics at Massey where she met and married Ross who wanted to be farmer. They set up dry-stock farm on 2500 acres near Rotorua.
“I realised it wasn’t much of place to be an economist, so I may as well transfer to the accountancy side, and I loved it.”
In and around bearing four daughters, Stanway continued her professional career sharing the parenting with her husband, who was able to care for the youngsters while working on the farm.
And, her professional success has obviously made its mark on her progeny – four extremely successful young women including one, an accountant, who now works as national coordinator for BDO Spicers NZ. Of her other three daughters they are now de

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