The Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators Tutt Rivers Lecture 2024

Each year, the Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (WCCSA) hosts the Tutt Rivers Lecture. This year marked a significant milestone: the 40th anniversary of Sylvia Tutt − the lecture’s namesake − becoming the first female Master of WCCSA and also the first female Master of any livery company in the 900-year history of Livery Companies in London. The event was not only a celebration of this achievement but also an opportunity to delve into crucial topics surrounding good governance and organisational values.

The lecture was delivered by Geoff Rowley, CEO of FRP Advisory, who shared insights gleaned from his company's own journey and his client work on the theme of governance in turbulent times. Rowley emphasised the significance of experienced and confident leadership, informed and inquisitive boards, and a culture of openness as markers of organisational resilience.

He stressed the importance of proactive and engaged company secretaries who contribute beyond mere compliance, acting as trusted advisors to the board and management. A company secretary who actively engages with the CEO, provides valuable advice, and integrates seamlessly into the board and management structure adds significant value to the organisation. Rowley encouraged company secretaries to stay abreast of regulatory updates, distil key information for executive and board consideration, and advocate for a value-centric approach to governance.

Rowley emphasised the distinction between informal and codified approaches to governance, asserting that businesses in turbulent times often discover that their biggest strength and weakness lie in their people. Stressors such as financial performance fluctuations, employee dynamics, supplier and customer relationships, as well as regulatory oversight, can exert significant pressure on both management and the board.

Delving into common behavioural themes observed in organisations navigating challenges, Rowley outlined several scenarios. Denial, he noted, is among the most prevalent responses, with boards often failing to recognise looming threats. The reluctance to seek assistance, interpreted as a sign of weakness, can result in a loss of potential options and ultimately lead to suboptimal outcomes.

Drawing on real-world examples which he has witnessed over his career, Rowley highlighted the risks associated with a subservient board that defers decision-making to a dominant CEO or chair. He also pointed to the behavioural response among some boards of unwarranted optimism, and the absence of sufficient scepticism. He emphasised the need for quality data and appropriate risk management frameworks to effectively identify and address challenges.

As a part of the evening, the WCCSA also gave an update on two of their latest projects. The first is a piece of research being undertaken at Leeds Beckett University, which is looking at the values which underpin governance. Moving beyond compliance and codes of practice, governance is instead rooted in values. Through extensive research involving interviews and literature reviews, the project hopes to uncover more about how organisations can embed these values. Participants in the research have already expressed keen interest in enhancing their own practices.

The WCCSA also announced the creation of the Sylvia Tutt Award, to commemorate the 40th anniversary. This award, intended to become an annual tradition, seeks to recognise early-career professionals and master's students who demonstrate a profound understanding of the importance of governance. Applicants are invited to submit a 1,000-word article addressing the future requirements of governance professionals in upholding organisational values, along with personal evidence of their commitment to these values. The award offers £1,000 worth of continuing professional development (CPD) through CGIUKI and access to WCCSA for one year.

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