We keep hearing from business how tough times are, how demands on directors have increased, and how that means they must be paid more. And yet fewer and fewer directors seem to be getting the prize gongs, such as chairmanships of listed companies.

Take Rob Ferguson and James MacKenzie. Both are among the busiest Australian directors with an almost impossible-to-service number of boards and directorships between them.

Sydney-based pathology and medical services provider Primary Health Care revealed last night that Mr Ferguson had been appointed chairman, to replace the late Greg Gardiner. Ferguson was formerly chief executive and chairman of Bankers Trust Australia and has served on the boards of Vodafone Australia and Westfield Holdings Ltd.

He is currently non-executive chairman of IMF (Australia) Ltd, chairman of Tyro Ltd, deputy chairman of GPT Management Holdings (and will become chairman next year), deputy chair of the Sydney Institute and a director of the Lowy Institute.

That’s a heavy workload in these days of greater scrutiny and the impact of the GFC and the recession.

Mr Ferguson’s workload is matching, but could soon exceed that Melbourne workaholic, James MacKenzie. At least Mr Ferguson’s boards are in Sydney.

Mr MacKenzie is chairman of struggling property group Mirvac, struggling ragtrader Pacific Brands, and chairman of unlisted coal group, Gloucester Coal. He’s also on the board of the James Packer Macau casino vehicle, Melco Crown. That would require travel to Macau on a regular basis. Mirvac is in Sydney as is Gloucester Coal, so he has a lot more travel than Mr Ferguson.

Both will earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year chairing their companies. Mr Ferguson also has his other commitments. When he becomes chairman of GPT next year after Ken Moss retires, he will have a heavy load of four chairmanships: that’s a big ask given that there are only five working days in a week and he has the two other directorships.

Mr MacKenzie has three chairs, one of which, Mirvac, is one of the laggards of the market and the battered property sector. It’s been forced to raise $1.7 billion and write-down around $1.5 billion in asset values in the past 18 months.

Finally, Mr Ferguson has a very big potential conflict of interest: he’s chairman of IMF Australia which funds shareholder class actions against companies. All of his companies could be sued (especially GPT which is also struggling, like Mirvac). He may disqualify himself from any discussions involving legal action against companies on whose boards he sits, but it looks an untenable situation.