Magazine article New Zealand Management

Being CEO + Director = Careful Handling: Juggling Dual Roles: Scott Technology Boss Chris Hopkins Has a Straightforward Approach to the Complex Juggling Act of Being the Company's Chief Executive and a Member of the Board

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Being CEO + Director = Careful Handling: Juggling Dual Roles: Scott Technology Boss Chris Hopkins Has a Straightforward Approach to the Complex Juggling Act of Being the Company's Chief Executive and a Member of the Board

Article excerpt

Chris Hopkins, the Dunedin-based chief executive and managing director of automation and engineering company Scott Technology, applies two distinct mindsets when fulfilling his dual responsibilities as leader of the company's management team and member of its board of directors.

As a manager, his key mantras include: not closely following the company share price; keeping the board fully informed through the chairman; seeing directors as a "sounding board"; making sure the management team is focused on the day-to-day task of running the company; taking decisions to the board as appropriate; and, educating his senior managers on all of the above.

As a director, Hopkins' priorities include: leaving his management hat behind; respecting the discipline of monthly meetings; using board meetings to critically analyse his own performance and the collective actions of the management team; worrying about the share price; considering disclosure; and, seeking best practice.

Hopkins has worked his way steadily up through the ranks of the company, joining then-owner Donaghy's Group in 1994 as corporate services manager. He has subsequently been the chief financial officer and general manager before being appointed managing director and CEO in 2006.

He started his career as a pilot trainee in the RNZAF (a little known fact in Dunedin business circles), but soon decided a life in the sky was not for him and moved into auditing.

"I still consider myself a new boy at Scott's even though I've been there 14 years. There are a lot of people there with a lot longer service than me. There are some people on the management team who have been there 40 years and 25 years--I'm still an apprentice and learning lots."

At a recent presentation to the Institute of Directors in Dunedin, Hopkins asked for a show of hands from people who thought it was a good idea for a CEO to also be a director, and then from those who didn't (disclosure: this writer kept his hand down at all times).

A majority disapproved of the dual role, which Hopkins says echoes a prevailing view in the United States. However the reality is that, for better or worse, he has dual roles--ones he is scrupulous about demarcating.

Hopkins isn't shy about seeking the advice of his fellow directors, and as CEO keeping in regular touch with the chairman. He does this with incumbent chairman Stuart McLauchlan, and also leaned heavily on former chairman Graeme Marsh, who until recently spent 38 years on the board, 32 of those as chairman.

"A problem shared is a problem halved," says Hopkins.

He also favours adopting a "no surprises" policy at board meetings, having in the interim used them as a sounding board and for guidance in developing management proposals for their eventual sign-off--or not.

"When you are on the board as the CFO or 2IC [which Hopkins was], it's always easier sitting on the sidelines and questioning things. But once you become the CEO or managing director, the buck stops with you, and you have to make the hard decisions.

"It can be quite lonely at the top at times, which is where getting that guidance from the board is good."

Hopkins also counts himself fortunate to have Ebos Group managing director Mark Waller as a colleague on the Scott board, and an additional source of useful counsel. …

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