In the spotlight: Board directors Sophie Ray and Phillip Chin

By Chris Sheedy

At a glance:

  • RSL NSW Board directors Sophie Ray and Phillip Chin have served since 2019 and 2017 respectively, and have found the experience very rewarding.
  • Sophie encourages anyone thinking about sitting on a board to consider this as their first.
  • Phillip says having different perspectives on the Board helps them understand the most pressing challenges veterans have.
  • Nominations to join the RSL NSW Board of Directors open on 18 July. The successful nominees will be announced at this year’s Congress in October.

The RSL NSW Board of Directors collaborates with the ANZAC House team and the District Presidents’ Council to guide the organisation and help secure its future. Over the past few years, this has included designing, developing and implementing the RSL NSW Strategic Plan 2021–2026, among other initiatives.

Sophie Ray, Chair of the Board, and Phillip Chin have served on the Board since 2019 and 2017 respectively, and have both found the time a true privilege.

“The community I live in is a veteran community,” says Sophie, who moved from Sydney 16 years ago, leaving her career as a corporate lawyer behind, to settle in Berry on the NSW South Coast.

She and her husband took over a local winery and bed and breakfast, and she subsequently built a career as a full time non-executive director, sitting on a range of boards.

“We have two Defence bases in our community,” says Sophie. “We have HMAS Albatross and HMAS Creswell. So I got to know lots of serving Defence personnel and veterans.

“When RSL NSW advertised for independent directors, and it was the first time they’d done that, a couple of veteran friends said, ‘With your experience, you could put your hand up for this.’

“I was really keen because, having a lot of veteran friends, I had some understanding of the issues — both the personal issues faced by veterans and the issues the organisation was facing. And I was really keen and passionate about contributing to turning that around.”

A director’s duties

Phillip says directors are responsible for the governance and oversight of RSL NSW, comprised of ANZAC House and more than 300 sub-Branches and Chapters.

“We have to set the strategy,” he says. “We engage with and listen to members, and we try to ensure that the organisation is delivering on its charitable purpose, now and into the future.

“We’re responsible for ensuring that the organisation complies with all the relevant laws and regulations. We have to keep the organisation safe. That includes our members and volunteers, and anybody who does work for us to achieve our charitable purpose.”

Phillip was originally appointed to the RSL NSW State Council in 2017. He’d been working for the Australian Trade Commission at the time, following a decade at the Australian Taxation Office, was a member of the Army Reserves and Treasurer of the Taxation sub-Branch before it was wound up in 2018.

Phillip knew the role would be a challenging one, but also felt a responsibility to help ensure the future sustainability of RSL NSW.

“As a veteran, RSL NSW is our charity,” he says. “We need to look after it so it will be there for our mates who need help now and in the future.”

He says he was also inspired by his grandparents, who actively supported charities and their local community before migrating to Australia as refugees, and continued to do so after they arrived.

Career progression

The two directors are finding great satisfaction in ensuring RSL NSW does as much charitable work as it can for veterans and families.

“I’ve been humbled by the way in which most of the members have embraced me,” says Sophie. “I’ve learned so much. I get to hear great stories, really fascinating stories, and meet some amazing people.

“Visiting sub-Branches, I’ve just been so welcomed, and met veterans and their families who have done things through their service lives which I am in awe of. Their selflessness has really helped me to stay grounded and made me even more passionate about sustaining RSL into the future.”

The role also provides powerful and valuable experience and education for people looking to extend their careers.

“This is a great board to join if it’s your first, because there’s lots of room for you to learn and to try things out,” says Sophie.

“I encourage people who are thinking about sitting on boards to consider this as their first.”

Phillip says the role has been very rewarding. It has given him an appreciation for the considerations various committees have when reviewing management reports.

“It brings a different perspective,” he says. “It offers experience and a point of view that only becomes more valuable as one’s career progresses.”

Tips for success

So what tips do Sophie and Phillip have for those considering taking on the challenge of such a role? First of all, you don’t need to know everything.

“The Board is a team and is supported by ANZAC House,” says Phillip. “And the Board needs to have different perspectives. We need as wide a cross-section of people as we can to make sure the decisions we make are the best ones for the veteran community.

“We are trying our best, but the lived experiences of veterans are diverse. So having those different perspectives on the Board will help us understand the most pressing challenges veterans have.”

The other important point, says Phillip, is that while a director’s role is not onerous in terms of hours per year, it does require a high level of diligence.

It’s about “taking the time to do background work, talk to people, understand the issues, ask questions, and then to bring your perspective to Board meetings”, he adds.

Sophie says it’s also important to realise there is no room for overbearing individual points of view or specific agendas.

“You are one of a number of directors around that table,” she says. “We have robust conversations, and you have the opportunity to put your view and argue it as much as you want.

“But in the end, it will come down to a whole-of-Board decision. You will be bound by your director’s duties to uphold and to advocate for the position that the Board takes, even if you don’t agree with it.”

A version of this article was published in the June issue of the Reveille magazine.

Prepare your nomination for a Board director role today and get ready for when nominations open on 18 July. Information about how to nominate will be published on the RSL NSW website.

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