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NEDs sharing wisdom from the boardroom

Roger Chao has a diverse boardroom experience across the public sector, private companies, and not-for-profit organisations. He currently sits on three boards; Rural Workforce Agency Victoria, Melba Support Services and Victorian Emergency Relief and Recovery Foundation, where he is also a Chair. Roger believes he brings a unique blend of commercial and socio-political acumen as well as a keen understanding of governance integrity to boards.

What useful advice would you give to someone who is at the beginning of their boardroom career?

The first thing I would say is not to rush. The eagerness to join boards can often lead to hasty decisions. It's important to be deliberate about the boards you join, investing time in researching and understanding both what you can offer and gain from the role. Engaging in a two-way conversation during interviews and doing background checks on potential red flags is key.

Also understand where your gaps are in terms of the right skill, knowledge and mindset you need for the boardroom. There are courses, coaching and mentors that can help, also volunteering is a great way to get practical governance experience in an area you are passionate about. Rushing can lead to missed opportunities for alignment and personal growth, which in fact may lead to it taking longer to land your first NED role.

Most importantly, make sure your motivation to join a board is your passion for what they do and understanding what difference you want to make, not simply wanting a NED role.

How did you make the transition into becoming a NED? How do you keep up to date and on top of being in ‘good shape’ in the Boardroom?

Transitioning from an executive to a non-executive role involved understanding the nuances between governance and management. It was not just about adopting a new title but moving from being deeply involved in day-to-day operations to focusing on strategic oversight and governance.

To keep up to date, I engaged in continuous learning, identifying gaps in my skills and experiences, and addressing them through courses and programs. Staying informed and adaptable is essential to maintaining effectiveness as a NED.

What has been the best and the worst thing about being a NED, the biggest challenge and the most valuable thing you've learnt so far?

The breadth of sectors and topics covered, along with being able to make a difference, is the best feeling of all. The worst aspect has been the intense workload during crises.

The most challenging experiences have involved navigating the dynamics and cultural aspects of board governance, including making tough decisions about leadership and legal actions. There are also new challenges around ESG and how to navigate and consider wider groups of stakeholders within community and society.

The most valuable lesson has been the human experience, the importance of understanding where people are coming from, so that you can build bridges and move things forward. Ultimately, recognising that decisions are influenced by a variety of personal factors.

The most valuable lesson has been recognising that all decisions are influenced by humans, who bring a variety of personal factors into the room. You don’t need to agree, but listening is key to be able to build bridges and move things forward.

NEDs are supposed to bring wisdom to the boardroom. What does that mean and how would you describe a wise NED?

A strategic mindset involves applying practical knowledge with judgment and understanding of context, which is the essence of wisdom in the boardroom.

Wisdom is about knowing the best course of action and implementing it effectively, not just possessing knowledge. It requires a blend of hard and soft skills, combining intellect with emotional intelligence and the ability to read and respond to people and situations.

What do you do to step out of your ‘echo chamber’ to challenge your own thinking and broaden your mindset and perspective?

I actively seek feedback from others and create a culture of openness that encourages challenging and courageous conversations. This approach helps in hearing diverse views and avoiding groupthink, fostering a board environment where conflict and debate are seen as signs of a healthy and functioning board.

What transferrable learnings and different perspective could you take to the boardroom from your life outside your work and professional life?

From my adventures and outdoor experiences, I've learned the importance of risk management and the ability to remain calm under pressure. You can plan as much as you want, but there are some things you don’t have control over, like the weather.

These lessons are directly applicable to the boardroom, where managing risk and staying adaptable in the face of the unknown are crucial. This perspective transforms risk from a negative element into an opportunity for growth and innovation.

What question would you like to ask a peer NED yourself?

What advice would you give your younger self and how would you ensure that the advice is not only heard but also acted upon? 

You will find all published interviews at If you like to take part in this interview series yourself, please contact 

The Non-Executive Directors’ Association (NEDA), is a professional Association that develops and promote competent NEDs throughout their boardroom career with the right skills, knowledge and mindset. To find out more how we support our members to stay up to date through certified training, insight updates, coaching, networking and more, please go to



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