Company secretaries – what they don’t teach you at business school

Twenty company secretaries gathered recently for dinner under the auspices of the Leadership Development Programme. Our guest speaker for the evening was Graham Staples, Group Company Secretary at Schroders plc, a constituent of the FTSE100, and Europe’s largest independent listed asset management company.

Graham has over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry, and shared a number of insights on key lessons he had learnt as he had progressed in his career. He advised that colleagues should:

  • differentiate themselves by excelling, and making a difference;
  • work to their skill set;
  • ask to take on tasks, or otherwise not be surprised if they ‘didn’t get’;
  • build relationships and empathise with the colleagues with whom they would work later in their career;
  • retain control over their area of responsibility;
  • understand their business and, if possible, run a business unit to develop commercial skills;
  • handle the relationship with the NEDs, and act as a bridge between them and the Executive.

As if that wasn’t enough, Graham (an MBA) also shared a list he had drawn up of ‘the things they don’t teach you at business school’.

  1. Trust is everything. If you can’t be trusted, ultimately you will not succeed.
  2. Always look at things from the other person’s perspective – how would they read what you have written, react to an announcement etc. Empathy is a great skill.
  3. People are not rational. They do not always take the obvious (or right) course of action.
  4. In stressed situations, people act even more irrationally!
  5. Things do go wrong. Mistakes are forgiven; but generally only once for each mistake, so learn fast from them!
  6. Commonality of cause can enable people to achieve great things, especially in the face of adversity.
  7. Never burn your bridges. Today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s boss!
  8. Master the art of communication (and that doesn’t mean slick presentations).
  9. Arrogance will destroy you in the end.
  10. Always be aware of the influence you have on others. You may be surprised that it is greater than you think, and therefore should be used wisely.

I have now started work on my own list!

Graham’s reflections provided a great opportunity for colleagues to accelerate their learning of what they needed to do to get to the top, and stay there.

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