Catherine Woods was recently awarded Graduate of Merit – Non-Executive Director at the IoD Chartered Director Programme Awards 2015.
What non-executive positions do you currently hold on boards in Ireland?
I am a Non-Executive Director and the Senior Independent Director on the AIB Group board, a Non-Executive Director on AIB Mortgage Bank and Beazley Re and Chair of EBS. In addition, I hold a number of pro bono positions.
Tell us about your career background and some of the milestones along the way
I joined JP Morgan as a graduate trainee just as the City of London was undergoing its ground-breaking financial Big Bang in the 1980s. JP Morgan had just made the strategic decision to enter investment banking in Europe so I was heavily involved in establishing its M&A function and subsequently Equity Research for financial institutions. My memorable milestones include JP Morgan’s first equity capital market transaction in Europe and recapitalising Lloyd’s of London through the introduction of Corporate Capital.
A second phase of my career started when I returned to Ireland and became a financial expert on a number of State bodies and my non-executive career began with An Post in 2008. As I had no prior connection with Irish financial institutions before the crisis, I was delighted that I was able to join the AIB Board in 2010 and use my international experience for the national good. A significant milestone for me has been the rehabilitation of AIB in Irish society, culminating in the recent announcement AIB has received regulatory approval to begin the process of returning €3.3bn of capital to the Irish State by July 2016.
What are your professional motivations?
My abiding motivation has always been to stretch myself and do my best so that I have no regrets about not giving it my best shot.
Describe your leadership style
I really enjoy empowering other people and developing talent. In practice, that means trying to create a safe, learning environment where talent and high performers can flourish. I believe it’s important to recognise effort and effective contributions and in return expect individuals to accept accountability which can be seen as challenging. Fostering a strong, collegiate team spirit is also important to me.
In your view, what role can non-executive directors play in driving board effectiveness?
A very large one! There are quite a few tools at the disposal of a non-executive director to increase a board’s effectiveness – it’s just a matter of being aware of them and using them judiciously.
What were your motivations for undertaking the IoD’s Chartered Director Programme?
I wished to formalise my education to ensure that I fully understood the role and responsibilities of a non-executive director. The downside risks of being a non-executive director are quite high in today’s environment, particularly in the financial services sector, so I wanted to cover all the angles! The networking opportunities offered by the Programme was also an attractive feature to me.
What impact has formal director training had on your contribution in the boardroom?
I acquired a lot of knowledge and confidence about the scope of the non-executive director’s role and responsibilities. Thus, when a difficult situation arises, I have an excellent reference mechanism by which to gauge the most suitable response within the context of the non-executive director boundaries.