In their shoes:
Continuing our 'in their shoes' series, we sat down with Val Lynch, who works as a Company Secretary at Silva Homes.
As part of our ‘in their shoes’ series, we sat down with Val Lynch…
Tell us a little about you and what makes you tick
I have been a chartered secretary for 27 years and have been so blessed with my career. I have had the privilege of getting a really sound foundation early in my career, working for large PLCs and corporates. For the past ten years plus, I have worked in the housing sector, which suits my values much better. I love the fact that every day when I get up and do my job to the best of my ability, I am making a difference to a vulnerable person in our society. I can’t do my job without the support of all my Silva Homes colleagues, as we operate in a very inclusive culture which appeals to me. Working in this housing sector means that you have to be a ‘jack of all trades’ getting involved in insurance, governance, data protection, health and safety, compliance, strategy, audit, assurance and risk management. I love the variety, and no two days are the same. I am passionate about everyone having a safe, secure home in a diverse community, and I think it is a basic human right. I really enjoy mentoring and coaching my team and helping them to be the best they can be. I love travelling to exotic places (pre-COVID-19!), cooking Spanish food and have an eclectic taste in music and books. I also enjoy the theatre and walks with my elderly labradoodle dog called Millie.
How would you describe your role as a governance professional?
I see myself in a very privileged position as being a ‘critical friend’ of both the board and the executive board members. I think it is essential that I remain independent and provide sound advice and judgment on various matters. I feel strongly that one of my key roles is to ensure the organisation’s integrity. Being a governance professional means that you also have to be supportive, flexible, resilient, brave, trustworthy and discreet. You get to hear confidential discussions around the board table and have the opportunity to contribute and influence that many of my colleagues do not have – and I am always mindful of that. Building relationships, I would say, is a huge part of the role, and the time that you spend building these relationships pays huge dividends as your board members know they can trust you and feel comfortable raising any issue with you. The work between my board and the executive board is built very much on a strong foundation of mutual respect, trust and constructive challenge, and this creates a very healthy culture.
Would you say there’s a typical day in the life of a role/governance professional?
There is no such thing despite my best efforts to plan my day! I try to be proactive and plan ahead for meetings, report writing, projects, coaching, learning and development etc., but when I switch on for the day, I am excited about what will be in my in-box and how I can support my customers and colleagues. This could be a data protection near miss, an insurance query, responding to board members' comments on our board pack, preparing for board appraisals, an internal audit, or reading our regulator's latest sector risk profile report. I try to achieve a good work-life balance, and I am very fortunate to work for Silva Homes which really believes in offering a flexible approach. I can log on early or log on late and use my time the best I can around the needs of the business. Since the pandemic and having to work from more home, I believe this is more important than ever.
What do you think are the most important skills that you need for your role as a governance professional?
There are so many to choose from, but I would say the softer skills include patience, gravitas, credibility, empathy, compassion, integrity, honesty, and bravery. The ability to deal with uncertainty is also an important skill as the governance world is in constant change no matter which sector you work for. It also helps to be a direct straight speaker and not ever to be afraid to speak out. Early on in my career, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing boss who helped me enormously to identify what an excellent company secretary looked like – he was a really warm person and showed great corporate kindness, and I think these qualities are also very important.
Other skills include commercial awareness, attention to detail (but being able to see the bigger picture), excellent written and verbal communication skills, and meticulous planning skills.
This has been an interesting year for us all. How have you adapted in your role as a governance professional?
For the past 18 months, we have all had to navigate remote working and supporting virtual governance arrangements. There has been an unprecedented disruption to the world of work. Boards have had to be resilient and dig deep to continue to function effectively. Having virtual meetings constantly is not ideal, but we have had to learn to cope with them. The pandemic has shown us that we can run the business, keep everyone, including our residents and colleagues, safe, and still provide frontline services such as financial support and repairs to our customers. It has been a really difficult time, and the emotional support that we have had to give and receive is unprecedented. We have had to learn to work flexibly and also to be kinder to each other. However, I do believe that these lessons give us an opportunity to build a better world. The importance of diversity and inclusion has also been brought to the forefront of the board’s discussions.
Do you have any thoughts regarding what those coming into the profession should know?
The world of governance is an exciting, dynamic world and my one piece of advice for anyone considering the profession as a career is that they must like change. Also, governance professionals can make a real difference. You will have a sense of purpose, opportunities for growth, and in my experience, feel supported and motivated. You can also look forward to a balance between your professional and personal life with flexible working conditions and the latest technology to support you in your job and career advancement. The demand for company secretaries has never been higher so you would be joining at a really exciting time. The sky is the limit!
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