Sammy didn’t grow up with an interest in being a company secretary. In fact, he didn’t know anything about the career or what the role entailed. Three years into a career, he still finds himself explaining that it’s more than just taking minutes – but has noticed a shift in how people see his role and the number of people who understand what it means to be a governance professional.
Over the past few years, Sammy has seen an increase in media coverage that showcases the importance of good governance off the back of BIG governance failures, such as Enron and Sports Direct. This shift in awareness is making it easier to explain how his role impacts organisations.
Starting his career as an in-house governance professional at TP ICAP, Sammy started his current role at PwC towards the end of 2020, which sees him manage a portfolio of clients as an outsourced company secretary. In this role, he attends meetings with clients, completes transactions, and helps the organisations improve their governance; this is his favourite part as he feels like he really adds value to what they are doing. When things slow down, he gets the chance to work on things like governance reviews.
Sammy is excited to be part of a growing career path and would encourage others to ‘ride the crest of the wave’ while the profession grows, it’s a great time to be a governance professional.
The role of the company secretary is a position of great importance. You are an influencer, advisor and support function for the organisation.
Resilience and the ability to challenge those who are more experienced than you is essential if you are going to succeed as a governance professional.
What is Governance?
Governance is a framework that brings order through processes, principles, and policies which help manage a company and its stakeholder. It's like a skeleton that brings it all together.
What is a governance professional?
A company secretary is effectively a bridge that can be relied upon and is always in the right place at the right time to connect the board and the C-suite. They gather information for a variety of individuals and departments, compile and process the information and present it in a comprehensive manner for the board. This is a position of great importance as you are an influencer, advisor and support function for the organisation.
There has been a real shift in the language used around the role, and the shift to governance professional has really helped to improve the understanding of the significance of the role and the breadth of what it covers. It is helping to add value to the career path.
The route to a career in governance
Growing up, there was some expectation that Sammy would follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in medicine, but his dad never succeeded in convincing him it was the right path. Instead, he chose a law degree, knowing early on that he didn’t want to be a barrister or a solicitor, but was mindful that there would be lots of options for a career after graduation.
Graduation didn’t provide him with the lightbulb moment he had hoped for, so he set out to complete some work experience and vacation schemes (like a temporary training program with law students do over the summer or Easter that can last for up to a few weeks). The most memorable work experience was secured through a friend of the family. He only spent a week at BP and finally felt like he had discovered a role that was legal based but was not in a law firm. A win-win!
After his placement, Sammy attended the BP Insight Day with DMJ, and the Institute, and things felt a bit clearer. He went on to interview at a few places but decided that he wanted to immerse himself in a degree and then focus on finding a career in governance. The University of Portsmouth became his home. He completed the LLM Corporate Governance and Law/GradCG qualification and was lucky enough to find an internship with Marsh before completing his dissertation, so he could ease into the world of work.
The essential skill for success in governance
Every role will be different, but the ability to juggle and spin plates at the same time is key. There are always competing priorities and tasks that need to be completed, so being able to keep everything moving is part of the day job. You need to have a natural ability to communicate and know how to get the most out of people; this is not a job for the shy or reserved. You need to have the confidence to be able to talk to colleagues and clients of all levels, including the most senior, and be able to hold your own in meetings and discussions. You may even need to deliver news that doesn’t go down well, so you need to be able to stand your ground.
Resilience and the ability to challenge those who are more experienced than you can be intimidating, but it’s essential if you are going to succeed as a governance professional. You will invariably need to speak up in boardrooms or help the chairperson to unpick a problem so that decisions can be made in a timely and informed fashion.
Understanding that there is a need for knowledge of legal and contractual obligations, as well as developing other soft skills will help you to support the board. In a sense, you need to be able to manage people in a 360-degree fashion, up, down, and sideways, internally, and externally. You need to have your finger on the pulse and know when to respond to any change of rhythm – hmm, maybe his dad was right; he could have been a doctor.
While it’s still early days in his career, Sammy was included in the Ones to Watch on the DMJ Governance Hot 100 in 2020 and was honoured to be part of the team at TP ICAP when they were nominated for both project of the year and the team of the year in the Institute’s annual awards. While being nominated for a solo award was nice, Sammy felt a real sense of achievement in the team award as he was part of something collaborative.
How did the Institute support your career as a governance professional?
Sammy’s first interaction with the Institute was when he attended the BP Insight Day. He then ventured into the accredited degree at the University of Portsmouth, so he feels that the Institute has been by his side throughout his foray into governance. Studying through the University allowed him to study his way and get the most out of his learning experience.
Since completing his degree, Sammy has become a regular reader of Governance and Compliance magazine, as he finds it keeps him up to date on what is going on in the world of governance and in his own words, ‘Who wouldn’t rather read a 200-word summary from Peter Swabey than a 500-page consultation’.
Words of wisdom for your governance career
Don’t expect to get things right on day one. Every day is a learning day so take advantage of that, imagine you are a sponge and take in everything you possibly can.
The field of governance is broad, and just when you think you know everything, you will learn something new – so always keep your mind open and sharp, learn from those with more experience and those who are just starting out as things change regularly and there is always more to learn.
Be resilient, you won’t always get it right, you will make mistakes, learn from them and bounce back – put your best self forward every day.