Case Study: Rory Herbert ACG

Written by
Rory Herbert ACG, Company Secretarial Assistant, The Go-Ahead Group

01 Dec 2021

01 Dec 2021 • by Rory Herbert ACG, Company Secretarial Assistant, The Go-Ahead Group

Having completed a Master’s degree in Corporate Governance and Law at the end of 2019, Rory is now training to be a qualified governance professional. Upon graduating, he gained some first-hand experience in corporate governance within the company secretariat division of a Hong Kong-listed conglomerate. Since then, he has spent a year working for a professional services firm assisting with the company secretarial and governance requirements of international businesses and start-ups. More recently, Rory moved in-house and currently works within the company secretariat of The Go-Ahead Group plc.

While still halfway to fully qualifying as a governance professional, Rory is amazed at how much the social and corporate landscape has shifted in such a short space of time. From when he started, to where he is now, it seems like you can’t go anywhere, or read anything, without a mention of governance somewhere along the line. It makes the profession so exciting, and Rory is happy to be at the fore of such a dynamic and evolving subject.

What is Governance?

On a basic level, governance is the running and operation of the company. In practice, it feels more like an umbrella term that combines elements from many different disciplines and topics. Governance spans things like strategy, risk, compliance and many more, ensuring that your organisation is running effectively and benefits shareholders and stakeholders alike.

What is a governance professional?

Without trying to use a cliché, Rory describes the company secretary as ‘the conscience of a company’. They provide expert advice to the board in order to help manage and control the direction of the company whilst assisting the directors with wider matters including compliance. Essentially, “a governance professional is like a spider in the middle of a huge web with everything, in one form or another, going past you at some point”.

The route to a career in governance

Through his own admission, Rory “sort of fell into” governance, it wasn’t a deliberate career path, but it’s one he is glad he found.

Loving history throughout his school days, Rory followed his passion and continued his studies at the University of Portsmouth. Academics wasn’t something that came naturally to Rory, so continuing his education was a big decision. Upon completion of his degree, the job market didn’t look promising, and Rory was worried that his undergraduate degree didn’t make him employable enough, so he decided to find a masters with a career path.

While looking at what his university had to offer, he discovered the Corporate Governance and Law masters, a topic he admittedly knew little about. As he learned more about the subject and realised that it was an accredited programme through The Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland, he was excited - this wasn’t just a masters degree, it was the start of a professional career.

Once Rory got stuck into the degree, he began to appreciate the variety and depth of the profession and realised he had found his calling. History was literally in the past and governance was the future.

The essential skills for success in governance

Research is a key skill for any governance professional. The role requires someone who has a sense of curiosity and is willing to go out and research those odd tasks. As a junior in the field, Rory has seen numerous requests that he never expected to see and, in all likelihood, will never see again.

“While I was doing my internship, we received a really odd request that had made its way around various teams and eventually ended up with the CoSec – AKA the universally recognised 'miscellaneous' department.
A ruling, from a rural Italian regional court (completely unrelated to the company itself), had inadvertently increased ID documentation and requirements for directors and senior management.

We spent days scrolling through Italian law, statutes and guidance notes - I was relying heavily on google translate - simply to try and make sense of this nightmarish administrative headache.

In the end, we narrowly avoided having to fly the affected person halfway across the world and managed to come up with a workaround that satisfied the requirements, but it was such a weird combination of events that rippled all the way across the globe it seemed.”

The profession and the topic of governance continues to evolve and develop. To be a successful governance professional you can’t be idle, it’s about constant development and research so that you can almost pre-empt what will be asked or expected of you.

A governance professional also needs to have good communication skills

You’re exposed to every conceivable facet of an organisation and to function successfully in the role you need to build good relationships with everyone you encounter. Additionally, concepts and subjects that fall within the remit of governance tend to get very technical and detailed, very quickly. It’s invaluable if your communication skills enable you to simplify or refine these subjects to a more accessible level and simply filter out the relevant and key material.

Career highlight

Rory has had a short yet successful career so far. One of his career highlights was being part of the WCCSA internship exchange and getting involved in the Company Secretariat of a Hong Kong listed conglomerate. This was an intense and challenging experience that threw Rory straight into the deep-end - fresh out of graduating.

This experience gave Rory confidence to take on his next role as a governance trainee. Working in professional services has provided him with a really solid and well-rounded understanding of the profession and has improved his skills considerably in such a short amount of time

How did the Institute support your career as a governance professional?

Aside from accrediting the master's degree at the University of Portsmouth, the Institute provides Rory with a way to keep up to date. Rory is a regular reader of G&C magazine and finds attending webinars to be really useful for his professional development. As he becomes more embedded in the governance community, and more comfortable in the profession, he finds the topics covered really interesting and relevant. He likes to get his reading in early as his current boss organises a reading group of the magazine every month and it’s proven to be really useful in keeping our understanding and knowledge fresh.

Words of wisdom for the next generation of governance professionals?

According to Rory, “Anyone who wants to consider a career in governance really needs to appreciate the variety of the role. I’ve spoken to a lot of professionals, and nobody has ever been able to give me a clear and definitive answer to ‘what do you do’ or ‘what is a governance professional?’. It’s a profession that defies definition, but I’ve really come to appreciate and enjoy that, no two governance professionals have the same experience.”

Passion helps, because every day is different and you will constantly be challenged to learn and educate yourself on various topics, you need to really enjoy the role and want to succeed. It’s a challenge, it’s different, and it can be really stressful, but it’s such a rewarding job to be involved in.

Network. One word that could change your career. The governance community is small, and everyone seems to know each other or have a connection to one another in some form. This is exciting because you learn so much from these peer-to-peer interactions and the discussions and debates that follow.

Rory’s words of advice - “Get out there, make your own connections and learn as much as you can – you won’t regret it