Discover Governance: Use your law or business degree to start your career with the board

Questions & Answers

What is governance?

Governance is the system that identifies who has power and accountability and who makes decisions. It enables the management and the board of an organisation to deal effectively with the challenges of running it.

Good governance practice ensures that appropriate decision-making processes and controls are in place across the organisation so that the interests of all stakeholders (employees, investors, suppliers, donors, funders, volunteers, beneficiaries, clients, regulators and customers) are balanced.

The need for organisations to demonstrate good governance is more significant than ever, and having trained and qualified Chartered professionals to deliver it is increasingly important. Employers and practitioners value the professional development services that we provide as a benchmark of quality.

Answered by Edward Swire, Membership Team, The Chartered Governance Institute

Will employers sponsor employees to take the Chartered Governance qualification?

It is indeed very common for employers to cover the relevant fees for their employees. However, this is something you need to address with your employers.

Can you take the qualification internationally/where is it recognised?

Yes, we have students from every corner of the world. Our qualification is studied online via your e-learning platform (your MyCG), which can be accessed any device with an internet connection and web browser. Our qualification is recognised Internationally as we are the only governing body in the world with a royal charter for the governance and secretarial industry.

Answered by Richard McDermott ACG, Company Secretary & Data Protection Officer, The FA Group

Has the Chartered Governance qualification assisted in your career progression?

Very much so. I qualified while working in a governance role in local government and so the Chartered Governance qualification allowed me to move into formal company secretarial role. Without it, I think it would have been harder to make the transition.

Would you say there is a lot of opportunity within governance in sport, or is this still emerging? How does one move into this sector?

There is a considerably greater focus on governance in sport in recent years, mostly as a result of high-profile governance failings. Sports that receive public funding from either UK Sport or Sport England now have to satisfy a Code of Sports Governance to qualify for the funding. This focus has required sports organisations to tackle governance issues and, I believe, will increase dedicated governance professionals moving into the sports sector.

I joined The FA from a financial services company, so my experience tells me that there isn’t a specific pathway to follow to move into sports as the skills and experience from other sectors are transferable.

What are the main challenges of a company secretary or governance professional during COVID-19, and how might this affect the role in the future?

The FA has a complicated governance structure, and the onset of the pandemic required many decisions to be made about football being suspended. The main challenge was to ensure that we immediately transferred to using electronic platforms and that those in decision-making roles had the right information on time and the opportunity to debate important issues for the running of the game in challenging times.

What does good governance look like for an organisation?

I think it’s about getting the basics right. Having the right mix of skills, experience and diversity on the board, a cohesive culture of the board scrutinising and challenging the executive and ensuring that its focus remains on delivery of the agreed strategic priorities.

How easy is stakeholder management across a sports organisation?

Sports governing bodies like The FA have generally evolved from the same starting point – a group of participants in the sport getting together to provide a service to the sport, such as writing the rules or sorganising competitions. The principle of stakeholder involvement in the decision-making process is therefore established very early on. This is a challenge because stakeholders tend not to have a consensus on the goals to be achieved and can be mistrusting of the intentions of other stakeholders. Stakeholder management then is necessary to align as far as possible the objectives of the various stakeholders and is often a product of compromise.

Answered by David Press, Managing Director, DMJ Recruitment

What are the progression opportunities in this career?

There are a huge number of opportunities to progress within a career in governance, which, to a great extent, will depend on you! If you approach your career with a long-term plan in mind, you will quickly get on the right path to identifying what skills and experience you need to progress. If there are opportunities with your current employer to plug some of these skills and experience gaps, then great. If not, a strategic career move will be the best option if you are to fulfil your longer-term objectives. Like any profession, there are more opportunities lower down the ranks than there are at the top, however with the right plan, lots of hard work and determination, there is no reason why you cannot succeed.

What is the current view of the jobs market at the trainee end and any insight for how 2021 might look?

The current jobs market is improving. There is no doubt whatsoever that COVID-19 put the temporary brakes on recruitment, however, there are now clear signs that the market is rebounding with an increasing number of new instructions received since Boris Johnson started to relax the lockdown restrictions. We expect activity levels for trainee and Company Secretary Assistant level roles to return to some normality by Q4 2020 and then increase sharply through 2021. Governance professionals have weathered this storm extremely well and continue to support and advise boards on the decisions made and strategies implemented during this crisis.

Are there going to be more Insight Days later in the year?

At present we do not envisage running any Insight Days for the rest of the year. Our intention is to reinstate the programme in 2021 when everyone feels more comfortable travelling on public transport and attending group events. We had considered the idea of running virtual Insight Days, however, we feel these would miss the essence of what the Insight Days are all about – networking, participating, group exercises etc. The Chartered Governance Institute run some excellent online events on the topic of ‘Why a career in governance?’ - that are informative and well-attended.

What opportunities are available outside of London and the South East?

There are lots of opportunities outside London and the South East across all industry types and sectors. Opportunities extend to all parts of the British Isles, the Channel Islands, parts of Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Australia. My advice for those looking for work outside London and the South East is to get networking with companies in the regions you are looking to work in, attend local events and make sure you send a LinkedIn request to senior professionals to widen your network as much as possible.

Can you offer any advice to mature students who are considering transferring from different backgrounds to the role of a company secretary?

Please be assured that not every company is looking for a recent graduate, and over the years, we have placed many individuals looking to change careers. My advice is to think about what transferrable skills you have and to use these as ‘leverage’ when applying for a role. Lots of employers like to employ individuals that can offer a broader skill set that could be utilised in ways that may not be listed on a job description.

How do we deal with being ‘overqualified’ for more junior roles when trying to gain experience?

If you are applying for a job or attending an interview, then be open and acknowledge your experience and reconfirm why you are looking at a career in governance. For some companies, there may be a legitimate reason why they want a recent graduate (for example, to sit within a specific team structure). However, many companies will be more open-minded and flexible in this regard.

What advice can you offer about moving between different sectors, e.g. from the public to private sectors?

Moving between sectors is most definitely achievable. My advice is to get your first role wherever you can just to build up some practical experience. That first year is crucial to embed some basic skills from which you can start to shape your career. If you are looking to go down a specific route, e.g. PLC or public sector, then you want to try and transition within the first five years of your career. After this time, it can become more difficult as you will be competing with lots of others who may have more industry-specific experience than you.

Answered by Graham Lawrence, FCG.

How easy is it to move between sectors?

A vital benefit of the Chartered Governance Professional (CGP) qualification is that it teaches knowledge which is applicable across many, if not all, sectors. There are likely to be sector-specific governance practices, but many of these are based in good corporate governance which CGPs understand – for example, most sector-specific codes of governance are based to some extent on the UK Corporate Governance Code. There may be specific regulatory requirements to learn for a particular sector, but much of this information is available online so can be learned to prepare for and following a move between sectors. And in relation to experience, the primary focus of CGPs’ roles vary between sectors, but core skills are transferable. The majority of CGPs establish themselves in one sector at some point within their careers because that enables the development of real expertise, a reputation and a network, and therefore progression to senior roles, but a successful move between sectors is certainly possible, and many achieve this. 

What advice do you have for governance professionals moving from the public to the private sector?

The focus of CGPs’ roles in the public and private sectors are usually quite different. In the public sector, CGPs are often very involved in supporting boards’ meetings, advising the chair and chief executive, annual reporting, governance development and other similar work. Relatively few public sector organisations require support with company administration (though some have trading subsidiaries), which is key to working in many private sector roles. A move between these sectors might, therefore, be best early in a CGP’s career when employers are likely to recognise a desire for a breadth of experience. A CGP may, of course, choose to move back to the public sector after gaining suitable expertise. However, a possible exception to this is a move to an advisory role in the private sector, perhaps with a professional services firm, where a CGP may be advising public sector organisations on governance and related matters for which experience in such organisations would be directly relevant.

Is there a significant difference between governance in the corporate and NHS sectors?

There are differences between governance in the two sectors, but there are similarities too. NHS hospital trusts are required to comply with a code of governance which is based upon the UK Corporate Governance Code, though the NHS code is specific to governance structures and practices in that sector and it recognises the role of a range of external stakeholders. There are substantial differences in governance structures and practices – for example, the composition of boards, the frequency and nature of board and committee meetings and the significant influence of regulatory requirements in the NHS (which impact governance).

Answered by a FTSE 100Company Secretarial Assistant

What does good governance look like for an organisation?

There has been an increasing focus on this question following a number of very public corporate failings over recent years (BHS, Carillion, EnRon, etc). Boards and those ‘governing’ an organisation naturally have a tough job, the sheer number of stakeholders in today’s global world brings challenges in terms of balance. Should companies solely focus on profits to benefit the shareholders or should the sole focus be more on ESG and supporting wider stakeholders? The former was probably true in the past but we are moving towards a much more balanced outlook particularly with investors also taking a keen interest in ESG, and companies can no longer shy away from this. To support this, companies need good governance, which has multiple factors. Buzzwords within this are fairness, responsibility, transparency, accountability, leadership, culture, systems, risk, communication, etc.

The latest Corporate Governance Code (2018) notes all of these characteristics and is designed to support companies with good governance. Ultimately it comes down to transparency and having a clear strategy and purpose. Governance failings when unwound it can be found that purpose may have been lost, or systems had failed multiple times. Plenty of research has taken place which shows that good governance, typically built on strong foundations of fairness, responsibility, transparency and accountability will play a lead role in long term success and sustainability.

How easy is stakeholder management across an organisation?

A key phrase that has grown across the corporate world in recent years is ‘emotional intelligence’ or ‘EQ’. Any organisation is made up of lots of different individuals, teams or groups. The company secretary or CoSec team has the unique position of being centred right in the middle of this to make sure the right information is getting to the board and its appropriate committees.

Thus, engagement and relationship-building are key, you have to recognise you are working with a range of individuals and a ‘one size fits’ all approach is not going to cut it anymore. Building those relationships will lead to trust and make engagement significantly easier. It will also add a level of understanding as the CoSec role can still be misunderstood, so educate colleagues and stakeholders. It isn’t always going to be easy and will never be an overnight click, but you have to work at it to see results.

Does the job entail a lot of travelling? Is having multiple languages beneficial when working as a company secretary?

The answer really depends on the organisation. FTSE listed organisations legally require a company secretary. Many of these are international organisations so you may find there is some travel during the year for various board/committee or strategy sessions. But on the flip side, some of these will be purely based in the UK with limited travel.

Professional services provide a slightly different outlook as if you are working for a truly global group (for example one of the ‘big four’) you may have clients all over the world who may expect you to be in a location at certain times. But travelling is not something that will necessarily come from day one on the job, it is likely to become part of the job as you get more senior in the organisation.

Languages will always add a string to anyone’s professional bow. However, again it would be business dependent – if you are able to speak Spanish and are working in a business that has significant operations or subsidiaries with Spanish directors it is going to benefit you for sure!

How would you deal with a difficult much senior individual when starting out in the role?

This goes back to the earlier answer noting that all individuals are different and you need to develop your EQ skills to support your long-term career by building relationships with a range of stakeholders. You have to recognise that as individuals get more senior, the commodity of their time is going to become much more expensive. So, when starting out, really aim and push to get it done right the first time. Individuals remember, and if you can be counted on it will be noted. Joining a CoSec team, it could easily be the case that on your first day you have the CEO or chair asking you a question, and you need to be ready to deal with that. But key to this is recognising you may not have all the answers, and they will appreciate it a lot more if you are transparent and honest but deliver a solution that you can deliver an answer in due course.

It all comes back to engagement, but remember the CEO, chair, CFO, etc. are also potentially a parent, uncle/aunt and were at one point, at the start of their own careers – and they have a lot more empathy than is typically made out by the press.

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