At the CGI South East Branch’s recent get-together, held in our offices at Board Intelligence, our panel of company secretaries offered the room their top tips for building a successful career in governance. Below, we’ve summarised some of the highlights:
Choose the right roles
Early on in your career, it’s important not to get siloed or pigeonholed. Get as wide an experience as you can: find out what you enjoy and what you’re good at. One way to do that is to get experience at a corporate services provider or consultancy — it’s a great way of getting early exposure to a wide range of client types. Vicky Hart, group company secretary at TP ICAP Group plc summed it up well: “In the year I was at a CSP, I learned in one year what would have taken me five years somewhere else.”
This doesn’t only have to come from a consultant role: be selective with your roles too, for instance by choosing different countries, different kinds of organisations, or aiming to join companies with leaner teams. The bigger the team, the more likely you are to spend six months just booking appointments!
All of our panellists talked about the importance of building good internal relationships.
Hamza Aynashe told us how important it is to make sure people know the value you can bring to them. This is especially true for negotiating with people who write reports. You need them to see that you’re there to support people in making their papers more impactful, not just to nag them. So, adapt your style. Instead of just telling people you need the report on Monday, shift the conversation to “How can the CoSec department help you to ensure your papers hit the mark?”
The CoSec has the eye and ear of the board, so they can help the report writer ask the right questions in the report and make sure it addresses the concerns of the board (because the CoSec often knows what concerns will come up!). If you have a NED who always asks about the financial risk, ensure you’ve addressed that in the paper. Helping people write better papers helps them too, and positions the CoSec as a critical friend.
Giving your career the head start it deserves: six quick tips for a brilliant career
- Be good at time management, which is something you’ll learn from juggling the qualification and working.
- “You have to be the most organised person in the room.”
- Ask for more active feedback. After every project, ask: “Did I do a good job, how could I have done better?”
- Work hard, but feed your soul too. You can’t overfill your pie with just work. Have healthy boundaries.
- Networking matters at every level of your career.
- Be clear on what you want: have a 2-year or 5-year plan and look ahead. Look for the unusual opportunities. Emma Jackman gave a brilliant example of pushing for an exchange programme to work in South Africa — something she’s still known for through the organisation. Hamza Aynashe used his company secretarial skills to help set up a charity, where he is now chair and company secretary.
And finally, in case we needed any confirmation of the value of our roles: “If you can get the governance right, you can make anyone effective.”