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ABC acting chair Kirstin Ferguson’s journey from the military to business executive

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Kirstin Ferguson, who has been put forward to be the ABC’s acting chair by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, says she does not have a relationship with the Government and will be “different” from previous appointments.

“I am someone different from them,” Dr Ferguson said.

“I like to think I’m someone who is really genuine, what you see is what you get.”

It comes amid a week of controversy that saw the sacking of the broadcaster’s managing director Michelle Guthrie and the resignation of chair Justin Milne.

Dr Ferguson has been on the broadcaster’s board since 2015, and is regarded as a global women’s advocate and an experienced director, with 10 years’ experience on the ASX100 and ASX200 boards as well as private company and government boards.

“I seem to be able to deal with lots of things, but love taking on new challenges,” she said.

“There is no doubt that this is a challenge, but I think leadership is about stepping up when someone is needed to do that.”

‘Leading people and making things happen’

Dr Ferguson began her career by joining the military at 17 years old.

She became the dux of her Royal Australian Air Force graduating class at Australian Defence Force Academy, later going on to study law at the Queensland University of Technology.

After leaving the Air Force, she began working in a management role at a large corporate law firm while she completed her degree.

“I really liked the breadth of my role, I was working with the chief executive officer, leading people and making things happen, and I didn’t want to let it go,” she told online bulletin Women’s Agenda in 2017.

She made another career shift, leaving to work for a small consultancy firm providing workplace health and safety services in the mining and resources industry.

It was after becoming the chief executive of the consultancy firm that she was offered her first role on a board. She went on to become the director of the ABC, the SCA Property Group and other companies.

“The breadth and context in which I consider issues as a board director has increased exponentially,” she told Women’s Agenda.

“You are considering multiple industries and competing contexts while making decisions. It takes some time to understand the difference between direct leadership and influential leadership to get the best outcome.”

She completed a PhD in corporate culture, leadership and governance, and has previously been awarded a Sir Winston Churchill Fellowship and has been named the Australian Institute of Management’s Brisbane Young Manager of the Year.

In 2014, the Australian Financial Review named her as one of Australia’s 100 Women of Influence.

#celebratingwomen around the world

In 2017, the mother-of-two created the widely acclaimed #celebratingwomen campaign.

In her opinion piece for the Women’s Agenda, she wrote she was sick of the abuse women received online and argued for more positive female recognition.

She committed to sharing the profiles of two women, from anywhere in the world and from all walks of life, every single day in 2017.

Her colleagues and friends were asked to collaborate on the project, which featured women from around the world.

“While I may be facilitating it and getting the stories out. It’s every woman that makes this possible,” Dr Ferguson told The Huffington Post.

“It’s a group effort of women around the world putting themselves forward.”

By the end of the year, Dr Ferguson had celebrated 757 women from 37 countries around the world.

The project led to her nomination for the Walkley Foundation’s Our Watch Award for best use of social media.

Her next challenge is a board under pressure

Dr Ferguson has previously spoken about her leadership roles, telling Women’s Agenda it has taken her “decades to feel confident in my own leadership”.

“I am OK with my vulnerabilities. They make me who I am. Don’t feel there is a ‘type’ of person you need to be to have a board career or take a leadership position,” she said.

Her nomination as deputy chair comes amid staff questions over the board’s judgement.

Four Corners reporter Sophie McNeil — a former foreign correspondent — tweeted: “Chairman Milne is now gone but serious questions remain for the entire ABC board.”

Dr Ferguson said there “have been concerns and we share those concerns” and that she accepted “we have to regain trust and we need to focus entirely for the future of the organisation”.

She said she is “focused only on the ABC and independence”.

“I am looking forward to working with [the Government] as an important stakeholder, but alongside so many other stakeholders.”

Dr Ferguson has admitted the role is “a massive responsibility”.

“But I just love the ABC so much, I am just honoured to take it on,” she told Radio National presenter Patricia Karvelas.

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