Interview with DiverseCity onBoard board appointees: Meet Alfred Kam and Brian Chu

News & Events

10
Dec

Interview with DiverseCity onBoard board appointees: Meet Alfred Kam and Brian Chu

On bringing value to an organization, the benefits of being a board member, and the path to their new board appointments.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

AK-pictureAlfred Kam, a chartered professional accountant, was recently appointed to Chair of the Markham Library Board. Alfred has been on the DiverseCity onBoard roster since 2010, and says it was information provided by DiverseCity onBoard staff on volunteer opportunities with United Way and the Markham Library that encouraged him to get involved. We spoke with Alfred to hear why he wanted to volunteer on a board and his experience in his latest appointment.

You were recently appointed to the Chair position of the Markham Library Board. What is your interest in their board and the Markham Library?

Alfred: Markham Public Library provides one of the most important services in the community and I spent many hours reading and studying there when I grew up.   Over the years, the libraries have transformed beyond books into a place where the community can come together to imagine, create, learn, and grow. I am really excited to be able to contribute alongside a very diverse board and work with an exceptional library management team.

What value did you bring to a board? What impact did you have?

Alfred: I brought my business acumen and financial experience. I am able to help the board see the business and financial side of things to ensure that effective and efficient services are provided by the organization.

“do not underestimate yourself – go for it and you may be pleasantly surprised that there are many boards that may just be looking for someone like you”

Why do you think diversity on boards is important?

Alfred: It brings together a variety of people with different views, experiences, and skills which can take an organization into directions not possible with a homogenous board. For example, Markham Public Library has a very diverse board representing and mirroring the community and it’s one of the most innovative and efficient library systems in the country.

Were there any challenges you faced in joining a board prior to being a part of DiverseCity onBoard? What advice would you give to others who are looking to get involved in leadership and join a board?

I never thought about joining a board prior to discovering DiverseCity onBoard. After hearing Cathy (DiverseCity onBoard’s Program Manager) describe the numerous opportunities to serve, I considered and joined the candidate roster. I did not think I would be chosen as I felt there would be so many more qualified people. I would say do not underestimate yourself – go for it and you may be pleasantly surprised that there are many boards that may just be looking for someone like you.

How has participating in DiverseCity onBoard contributed to your effectiveness as a board member?

Alfred: Orientation and governance training helped to boost my confidence in being able to serve effectively as a board member.

Is there anything you would like to add about your experience and position, or the importance
of diversity in leadership that we haven’t asked?

I would encourage you to volunteer your time and make a difference in the organization you join.

 


BC-pictureBrian Chu, a commercial real estate lawyer, has been a Diversecity onBoard roster member since 2008. Brian was recently appointed to the board of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). Brian’s board experience started with his daughter’s daycare and has since grown to include boards in sectors including post-secondary education, arts, energy, economic development and youth engagement. We spoke with Brian to learn about his new role at the TSSA, the benefits of serving on a board and what he brings to the boardroom table.

You were recently appointed to the Technical Standards and Safety Authority board. What is your interest in their board and the TSSA? 

Brian: The TSSA is responsible for the safety of all Ontarians in a number of key areas including elevating devices and fuels. It is a unique organization since it is a “designated authority”. In some ways it is similar to an agency of the government, but it has independence, is self-funding, and yet it has to be aligned with the policy objectives of the government and responsive to the needs of its key stakeholders. I was excited to have the opportunity to join an organization with such a robust role in the safety of Ontarians and one that deals with the needs and concerns of so many stakeholders.

“Boards have also given me an opportunity to learn about a wealth of different things that are normally outside of my occupation as a business law lawyer”

What are some of the personal and professional benefits of being on a board that you have experienced? 

Brian: Being on boards provides the great personal benefit of meeting so many motivated individuals both at the board and staff levels of the organization. It is a great way to find a role model or mentor. Boards have also given me an opportunity to learn about a wealth of different things that are normally outside of my occupation as a business law lawyer, including things such as government policy, funding models, philanthropy, risk management, financial literacy, social justice, the nuances of post-secondary education, and knowledge of different sectors including energy, art and design, education, tourism, and culture.

What value did you bring to a board? What impact did you have? 

Brian: When I first started on boards I brought legal knowledge and experience to the board with a legalistic point of view of governance. After years of experience and education about how to be a good board member I now bring a breadth of leadership experience and an ability to combine diverse perspectives to allow a board to identify its strategic goals, objectives and policies in conjunction with staff and to implement and monitor them.

How has participating in DiverseCity onBoard contributed to your effectiveness as a board member?  

Brian: DiverseCity onBoard is the source that one board used to identify me as a candidate. It provides nominating committees and recruitment firms a valuable resource in targeting qualified candidates suited for the needs of a particular organization. Besides the obvious benefits of the educational components, participating in DiverseCity onBoard activities allows for great networking. Getting to know people and building relationships is key to getting on boards and to being effective once there.

How were you introduced to DiverseCity onBoard, and why did you choose to get involved? 

Brian: An acquaintance of mine was one of the first DiverseCity onBoard candidates listed in the database. He explained the goal of increasing diversity on all types of boards at all levels with qualified candidates. Increasing diversity beyond gender diversity was important to me and given my previous board experience I agreed to be listed.

Were there any challenges you faced in joining a board prior to being a part of DiverseCity onBoard? What advice would you give to others who are looking to get involved in leadership and join a board?

Brian: Board development courses usually advise their students to do due diligence and take time to consider before agreeing to sit on a board and to find an organization for which they have an affinity for, if not a passion. The reality is that people often don’t have the time or opportunity to conform to such best practices since they end up on boards in many different ways including through their occupation, volunteer work, being recruited, or actively seeking it out. My advice would be that no matter how you end up on your first board, always contribute to the best of your ability. Your reward will be knowing that you have helped an organization move forward, you will learn a lot and getting on your next board will be much more easy because you have a track record with people who will vouch for you. Conversely, if you do a poor job, it will reflect poorly on your future board opportunities and your overall reputation.

Is there anything you would like to add about your experience and position, or the importance
of diversity in leadership that we haven’t asked?

Brian: One last comment is that diversity is a two or ten way street. As a diverse candidate you want boards to be open, receptive, respectful and willing to consider your point of view, but likewise you should be open, receptive, respectful and willing to consider other points of view.


 

Have you recently been appointed to a board with the help of DiverseCity onBoard? If so we want to hear about it! Let us know at info@diversecityonboard.ca