James Gallagher ACG
The bulk of James’ experience in a company secretarial role has been in the Irish funds industry. His experience ranges from working on investment funds through law firms to working for professional services firms.
James has enjoyed a lot of different experiences throughout his career, and has worked with some of the biggest names in the Irish company secretarial industry, which has given him a lot of insight and opportunity to build up an incredible network.
The network James has amassed allows him to be mentored by some very experienced people in the business, with a mixed set of backgrounds and experiences, some have even written books on the topic of governance which puts James in the company of some of the governance greats.
A governance professional needs to be very open with people, having the kind of personality that builds trust and respect, regardless of seniority levels.
Things won’t always go to plan, and you need to be able to think on the fly and come up with solutions to problems that weren't there five minutes ago.
What is Governance?
Governance is the processes by which companies are governed. It considers the systems, regulations and principles which underpin how a company should be run and how it should be governed. It is often where companies fall down and end up getting themselves into trouble.
What is a governance professional?
In James’ experience there are a lot of misconceptions about what company secretary is – they hear the word secretary and think PA, or secretary – whether he is explaining his role to colleagues or his social circle, the same misconceptions are there, and he patiently explains that he works with companies and their boards of directors and ensures that the company is run within company law and regulations.
A company secretary is like a trusted adviser to a company's chairman and the chief executive and the board of directors as a whole. The company secretary is responsible for ensuring that a company is legal and compliant with company law and the regulations that regulate whatever industry the company operates in.
James has been fortunate enough to experience a lot of different elements as a governance professional, but his favourite part would have to be board meetings - being in the meeting itself with all the directors and seeing the dynamics between the directors and the different personality types and how they interact.
The route to a career in governance
James started out his university education with an undergraduate degree in European Studies with History, at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. He has always enjoyed history, literature and European politics and culture and this degree seemed to touch on all of his favourites. During his degree he had the opportunity to study abroad as a student at a university in France, beefing up his language skills as he studied. This experience helped shape who he is today as he learned how to take himself out of his comfort zone - something he has to do every day as a company secretary.
It was during his undergraduate years that he discovered the Masters in Management and Corporate Governance at the University of Ulster, while researching for a project. Realising it was the route to a chartered profession James decided to do a little more research... a few of the basics like what is a company secretary and what does the role involve were top of his list.
Through his research he found the answers he was looking for and discovering the high employability rate following the Masters, he decided that this was a career he could really sink his teeth into.
The essential skills for success in governance
One thing that makes a good company secretary is attention to detail. It could be something as small as spotting a typo on the CRO form or a set of minutes that could save the day. James’ experience in corporate transactions has taught him to be very thorough, and he has found the experience of fact checking that he gained in his history degree useful when he needs to pull together information for reports for his employer or a client.
More of a personality trait than a skill, a governance professional needs to be very open with people, having the kind of personality that builds trust and respect, regardless of what level of seniority the person you are dealing with has. Across his working life James has dealt with everyone from service providers to legal counsel to numerous boards of directors, and being able to develop relationships with all of them has helped develop his career.
Resilience and confidence are also essential skills. James remembers the first time he walked into a board meeting; it was his first role, and he was the junior person in the room. It was challenging, but he sat there and took notes, learned as much as he could and made as much sense out of what was being said as possible, so the next meeting he attended felt lightyears away and he walked in with a new sense of confidence.
Lastly, James highlights the need to be flexible. Things won’t always go to plan, and you need to be able to think on the fly and come up with solutions to problems that weren't there five minutes ago. Speaking up while figuring out those solutions ties neatly back to having confidence!
Words of wisdom for the next generation of governance professionals?
Do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. To a law student I would say do not be surprised when you come into contact with the financial elements of the company secretary's role. And to a finance student I would say be prepared to immerse yourself in the legal aspect of the role.
Grow your network, be prepared to put yourselves out there and network with people within your company, your board, people and other departments, because you never know when you might come up against a topic that you're not sure about and you might have to speak to your accounting team or your legal team.
Have a hunger to learn - in this role you're always developing, it’s a special thing about this role - because it's so broad you never know what knowledge you're going to need at any time, which is actually a bonus.
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