Over thirty company secretaries and governance professionals met this week at the Leadership Development Programme and Networking Club* dinner in London, to listen to Jane Earl FCIS reflect on her career, and lead a discussion on how company secretaries can become more effective players in the boardroom.
Jane’s thirty-year career had taken her through a number of roles, principally in financial services, and increasingly in the top job. She had then worked for six years as the Company Secretary of BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the broadcaster, and was now the Company Secretary of the CDC Group, one of the Government’s principal vehicles for investing in developing country projects. Jane’s deep levels of experience, and the fact that she was also a qualified coach, made her observations meaningful, and the subsequent discussion insightful.
Key points which Jane made were that
- You can never have too much technical experience – that is the fundamental basis of what the company secretary has to offer
- It is particularly valuable to develop niche expertise (a common theme in the dinners – do something once and you become an expert, and indispensable). Be brave and take risks, be prepared to say “Yes, I’ll do that” – your profile will increase
- Judge whether you have the right attributes – patience, pragmatism, a sense of humour, a thick skin. Are you strategic and flexible? Do you plan ahead, and do you prioritise?
- Start every task, and every project, by asking “what are we trying to achieve by doing this?” Always think “How am I going to add value?”
- People are more important than the task – make developing the team the priority. Divide your time into 60% team, 40% technical
- Keep relationships healthy, and learn from everyone. In particular, build the relationship with the Chair and CEO, and other stakeholders such as the NEDs, auditors, lawyers, and your sponsor/champion
- Governance is a business-critical activity. Someone has to own it – make that you
- Be(come) the eyes and the ears of the organisation
- Be(come) a best-in-class operator, in HR terms the ‘thoroughbred’, or the ‘racing driver’
- Take networking** seriously. NETWORKING IS OXYGEN – it is a business-critical activity, which you can control, and which will significantly increase the probability of that ‘lucky break’. You create your own ‘luck’ – networking is one of the ways of doing it
The subsequent discussion generated the following key take-aways
- It was important to develop experience of other parts of the business, and become business-savvy
- The company secretary’s access to people and information allows them to join the dots in a way that few others in the organisation can
- The role involves challenge, but offers fantastic opportunity
- Bearing all these points in mind – both Jane’s contribution, and those from colleagues in the room – being the company secretary is an enormous privilege.
Maybe the best job in the boardroom?
* The Leadership Development Programme provides coaching, mentoring and Networking Club dinners to help colleagues reach the ‘next level’. It offers individuals the opportunity to develop and differentiate themselves, and their career, in a challenging professional environment. If you would like to know more about the Programme, or the Club, please contact me on 07739 088208 and firstname.lastname@example.org
** For the value-add of networking please click here