The CoSec Meetup provides company secretaries with the opportunity to network and learn from their peers over wine and nibbles. At our last session, we were delighted to welcome Catherine Sukmonowski, company secretary of Deliveroo, as a guest speaker. Here were our key takeaways:
1. Company secretaries are under greater scrutiny than ever before.
A shift began some thirty years ago when company secretaries started to be more active and break against the more passive stereotypes of the role. Back then, qualifying exams were much more concerned with IT and fire safety than governance. Fast forward to today and this has changed, with more emphasis on putting out very different types of fires.
The pandemic highlighted how much the role has evolved over past decades as company secretaries were forced to step up to ensure that the board was organised and able to meet in unprecedented circumstances. This helped to further enhance perceptions of the role and to finally convince those who were still sceptical of the company secretary’s role as a strategic figurehead.
Catherine’s experience of being involved in major IPOs also brought to the fore for her that governance is not just some intangible abstract concept. It is the building blocks on which successful businesses are constructed and has a material impact on figuring out the right thing to do, and how to do it. Getting this wrong can have severe effects akin to building on shifting sands.
In short, with greater power comes greater responsibility. As the role has evolved, company secretaries face increased scrutiny and increasingly complicated regulatory frameworks — no longer the note-taker ticking boxes, the role today has great demands and requires an ever-expanding skillset.
2. You have the power to drive better conversations.
Company secretaries are intrinsically involved in collating board information, supporting better board conversations, and providing space on the agenda for horizon-scanning strategic planning, which can enable the business to think ahead and be prepared. Catherine highlighted the value of the company secretary’s 360-degree perspective, underlining the role company secretaries play in providing advice and support to the business, and in setting a balanced and focused agenda.
Company secretaries should be leveraging their relationship-building skills to draw answers to questions such as, “What do we need to talk about that we aren’t talking about? And how should we be talking about this?” The insight that they gather can then inform the agenda-setting aspect of the role, allowing the company secretary to inject urgency and focus towards the most important topics for the board to discuss.
3. Your relationship management skills can be your superpower.
Catherine pointed out that, to be a successful company secretary, you need the skill of diplomacy. However, this cannot exist in a vacuum — therefore, company secretaries should take the time to build robust relationships with senior leaders that are based on trust. In doing so they can unlock the potential of the role to act as strategic advisor to the business.
Developing these three aspects of the company secretary’s role takes time. However, doing so is key to unlocking the full potential of the role. Therefore, it’s worth investing time and effort in them early on so that you can later reap the benefits and become the strategic figurehead that the role of company secretary allows you to be.