Written by Cathrine Long, Director of Long & Co
Ever wondered what a Board Director really thinks? General Manager and Board Director Sam Martin Williams shares her inner-dialogue while in high-performance situations and insights into leading Hunter organisations.
“I was the first in my family to go to Uni”. It is a sweltering summers day, the temperature has reached 30 degrees and morning tea time is still ahead of us. In front of me sits the accomplished Sam Martin Williams. On my deck, the General Manager of Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC), Non-Executive Director of Newcastle Permanent and a Member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board. “My family are grass roots and very real. They have always supported me but never let me get ahead of myself”.
The privilege of the company is not lost on me or the members of my family. Before Mrs Williams arrival, urgently sweeping the floors of crumbs and discarded arts and craft, my ten your old son asks enquiringly “Is there someone important coming over?” Sharing this anecdote with the Director, Williams laughs “I don’t think anyone has ever swept the floors because of my arrival”.
And there you have it. Accomplished and modest. Intrigued to learn more I press on. “Why do you do what you do?” Not missing a beat Williams says “I want to enable others to be the best they can be. People have recognised things in me that I didn’t think were special. If I can do that for others, it will be a good day for me”.
Williams is a change maker. She led the diversification of the University of Newcastle’s sporting facilities, the commercialisation of the TAFE business model and is the GM Corporate Services and Company Secretary at Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator whose charter is to create a world-class logistics supply chain model for the movement of coal.
Williams has always been interested in both the operational and human sides of business. She considers that change is what she does best, both in terms of commercial strategy and people.
Values, decisions and brands
Some companies and people are good at standing out from the crowd, at creating a following. Williams is one of these people. In marketing we call this branding. Good branding is being clear about what you believe in, delivering on this in everything you do and say in a way that evokes attention and loyalty.
It’s harder than it looks. And you can’t rely on market research to get there. It is an internal discovery, and when found it can be transformational. A tool that can help you hack your way through what can be complex decisions.
Williams uses her values to guide her decision making. Some people call this a finely tuned intuition. “The mark of a good Board is being able to make the difficult decisions. And to distil complex information into simple, actionable outcomes”.
The tools in Williams’ kit
Asked what is in her tool kit she carefully picks out three utensils; listening, perspective and doing.
“It starts with listening. Understanding what blows people’s hair back”. She puts it down to understanding a person holistically, to take a genuine interest in the person. This happens in all situations including at Board level. “Board subcommittees are a great way of really getting to know your peers. This translates into better outcomes in the Boardroom”.
Secondly, Williams talks about perspective. “A good day for me is seeing that people around me are healthy. Challenging things happen to all of us regularly. But you’ve got to have a certain tolerance for this. If I am batting a six or a seven out of ten, I’m still ahead. I’m still winning!”
Williams uses reflection to help bring perspective. “I enjoy being reflective about a conversation. I have some good personal dialogue after a meeting or a Board experience. I can say to myself ‘Oh shit, wasn’t that a monumental disaster’. And then I reflect on what just occurred. It could be that while I was talking, the visual cue from the person in front of me was different to what I had expected. When I play it back in my head I say to myself ‘Stop, just stop!’”.
Action is what concludes the Director’s trifecta. “I am good at closing things out. Listening and reflecting are important skills. But you have to be able to make the learnings actionable”.
She credits her childhood as an only-child honing the practice of quiet reflection. “We often laugh about that” Williams smiles, the plural referring to her husband, Todd Williams.
Life at the Williams’
Curious about the influence of this second half of the power couple (Williams laughs this characterisation off) she describes a typical scenario. “It will be Todd and I, a bowl of chips, a champagne for me and a beer for him. Together we will work through the options. By the end of the evening we will be convinced we have found the best option only to wake up the next morning trying to uncover an unexplored alternative”.
Oh to be a fly on the wall at the Williams’. Two highly decorated corporate figures (he is transitioning from the role as CEO of Regional Development Australia Hunter to explore ‘a number of options’). Isn’t life manic at their house I enquire? The Director counters.
“We are not different from other working families. Todd wakes up at 5am, we both get some exercise in before breakfast, we make sure we have a break with the family around dinner time and log back on in the evening”.
The importance of choosing the right life partner is not lost on Sam. “I genuinely like Todd, he is a good person and a great Dad”. Clearly Taj (their 6-year-old son) agrees “What did he say to me the other day with a big smile on his face?” She thinks back “The good times start when you leave Mum”. Self-deprecating humour. Figures.
“The next step for me in terms of working well is using my experience in logistics, supply and resources to add value to a Board in this field. In terms of living well, I just want to keep turning up to personal training. Not improving, just maintaining!” Oh yes. The Director is a former aerobics champion as well.
Sam finishes her 6th glass of water. “What I’ve tried to change that I can’t is my taste for French champagne”. The interviewer is relieved there is a hint of a vice. It seems she is happy to continue to make her life here in the Hunter.
“Would I be keen to play with the cool cats at McKinsey’s? Sure! But that’s a compromise I am happy to forgo. It’s about balance. We have support here and that is important. If we were going to change that it would have to add up for all of us. Beating what we have here in the Hunter will be challenging”.
You can access exclusive photos, videos and insights about our chat with Sam Martin Williams here.
About Sam Martin Williams
· GM Corporate Services and Company Secretary at Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC)
· Non-Executive Director of the Newcastle Permanent Building Society
· Non-Executive Director of theNewcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation
· Member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board
· Fellow at the Australian Institute of Company Directors (FAICD)
· Previous Executive roles at The University of Newcastle and Hunter TAFE
· The first female to be elected to the Newcastle Permanent Building Society Board
· Winner of the 2002 Telstra Young Business Women’s Award
· Married and mum to a 6-year-old surf-grom.
About the photographer
Sophie Tyler is a senior designer and freelance photographer. She is the founder of Sophie Tyler Photography where she does a mixture of corporate, portrait and lifestyle photography. Easy going and with a unique eye, Sophie's portfolio is delightful to peruse.
About the author:
Cathrine Long is the Founder and Director of Long & Co. We believe that as a small-to-medium business, you want freedom to grow. We believe you want marketing that works. As a leader you are looking for an alternative to the at times inefficient agencies and fly-in-fly-out consultants.
That is why, using our big company experience, we have launched Long & Co into a new category we call your "marketing partner". Just like you have your trusted accountant or solicitor, Long & Co is your expert marketing partner. It's a new world out there. Entrepreneurial, fun and with lower overheads.