If you enjoyed your company law module and would like a position of seniority that supports an organisation’s decision making, a career in governance could be for you. With a knowledge base of law, business strategy and finance, and new learning opportunities around every corner, a role in governance is perfect for those who are curious, good communicators and have great organisational skills.
If you like building relationships across an organisation and know how to be persuasive, this is a career that would suit you. And the best part, there’s no training contract required and no need to specialise. A career in governance is flexible, transportable and can lead to a much broader career than law alone.
A company secretary is a traditional job title that is now part of a wider set of roles that are encompassed in the role of Governance Professional. The role of the company secretary originated in the nineteenth century when the modern structures for companies were created to describe the senior corporate administrator. Today, whilst the title is still used, what company secretaries do and the responsibilities that they have are far more significant and wide-ranging than company administration, they find themselves organising, advising and supporting the board of directors.
Company secretaries work in corporate and private companies but also work in the charity, public and not-for-profit sectors. Titles for governance professionals increasingly vary across different organisations and can include chief governance officer, trust secretary, head of governance and governance manager to name a few.
To say that the role of a governance professional is broad would be an understatement. Typical responsibilities can range from organising the AGM (Annual General Meeting) to collating a company’s annual report from stakeholders across the business. While there is undoubtedly an administrative element to the role, particularly when you start, as the primary governance professional in an organisation, governance professionals and company secretaries do far more than simply record the minutes of meetings (Which are legal documents, not just notes!), issue notices and file statutory documents.
‘No two days are the same’, says Samira Chambas, Assistant Company Secretary at Diageo, ‘My day could involve a variety of tasks, including drafting and uploading papers for board meetings, attending and minuting meetings, preparing and submitting RNS stock market announcements, performing board effectiveness reviews, as well as notifying Companies House, the Financial Conduct Authority and other relevant regulatory bodies on company changes such as share capital increases/decreases, director appointments or resignations and dissolutions or liquidations.
There is also quite a lot of research involved in the role of a company secretary, such as reviewing the impact of government policy and publications and making sure that the board and the company as a whole adheres to the highest legal governance standards.’
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Governance professionals start their careers in a variety of different roles and sectors. Our members have come from professions such as music, humanities, and linguistics, as well as more traditional sectors such as law and finance.
The knowledge base for this role includes company law, business strategy and finance, and depending on the organisations can stretch to fit sustainability in supply chains, dealing with modern slavery and environmental impacts, IP law, data governance, risk, compliance, audit, and even assessing board skills composition and recruiting new board members.
Regardless of your background knowledge, there are ways to make your break into a career in governance you may find an entry-level role at an organisation that is willing to train you, you may choose to take the Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme. And if you have the right background in law or accounting, you may be able to fast track your way through the qualification. All of these routes will help you develop the basic knowledge you need for a successful career in governance.
Company secretaries are the eyes and ears of an organisation, ensuring that crucial information flows securely to the correct people, that board meetings are effective and that proper records are kept. Working in such proximity to the board of directors inevitably means being privy to some of the most important decisions made within an organisation.
‘When I worked in professional services, I had close contact with the board,’ says Samira. ‘In a listed company, a lot goes through the deputy company secretary or the general counsel, but I do get to work closely with the board on some things. Being privy to important information by being the first point of contact when the company wants to set up an insider, confidentiality or project list, makes the role feel crucial. You have to know what is going on, and you have to be confidential.’
The reporting lines in every organisation will vary, but in many, governance professionals report directly to the chairperson, CEO, head of legal or even the general council. The role is often seen as the bridge between the management executive and the board and is at the heart of the company.
With stakeholders in many departments within the organisation from legal, compliance, risk, finance, audit, HR, investor relations and many more, company secretaries are the all-seeing, all-knowing and consequently extremely valued. They become an integral cog, to such an extent that company secretaries are often referred to as ‘the conscience of an organisation’.
Technical knowledge aside, this is a role for a communicator who is interested in how businesses work and how they can help transform organisations and move them forward alongside the strategic initiatives.
The role of the governance professional is most suited for:
These are just some of the traits that make you a great candidate for the role of a company secretary or governance professional.
The role of the governance professional is one that crosses any number of sectors. With the experience you gain in each role, you add to the transitional skills you can use in your next position. While the job titles may vary, governance professionals are everywhere. At The Chartered Governance Institute, we have members across corporations, SMEs, charities, housing, the NHS, government, education and sports organisations, and many more – as a governance professional, the world is your oyster.
The Discover Governance hub is the best place to go to find out more about a career in governance. You’ll get to meet Chartered governance professionals and find out how they found their way into a career in governance, as well as finding out about upcoming Discover Governance events and how you can get involved.
These events are a great way to find out if a career in governance could be for you. Sign up for the Discover Governance newsletter to stay up-to-date with what events are coming up.
Remember, if you like the idea of a fast track into the boardroom– this may be for you!
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