Governance Game Changers is a blog and event series that celebrates company secretaries who have broken the mould and changed perceptions. As part of this series, we spoke with Miranda Craig — director of strategy and change at the Financial Reporting Council, Chartered Governance Institute mentor, and former company secretary. In this blog, Miranda talks about taking the secretariat route to senior management and provides some pointers for anyone wanting to do the same.
1. Be willing to roll your sleeves up
Since becoming a mentor for the Chartered Governance Institute, I’ve noticed that company secretaries are more likely to recognise their role as a stepping stone to something more visible, strategic and senior.
Having navigated this journey myself, I encourage this ambition — with the caveat that you cannot be afraid to do the less high-profile work first. In fact, by doing this work extremely well — you naturally raise your profile anyway.
For example, when I started as company secretary, rather than being a faceless entity chasing documents by email, I looked to improve the quality of our board papers. I clarified what kind of information the board were looking for in these papers so that the writers knew to include it. And I upskilled myself and, in turn, the writers on what a good board paper looks like.
Once I had raised the bar within the immediate remit of my role, I started to think about where else I could have an impact…
“You cannot be afraid to do the less high-profile work first. In fact, by doing this work extremely well – you naturally raise your profile anyway.”
2. Once you’ve aced “business-as-usual” tasks, break out of your comfort zone
I sometimes liken the role of company secretary to being a spider — you’re in the middle of the web but uniquely connected to what’s happening on the outer edges.
Savvy company secretaries know how to make the most of this position by reaching out, listening, and asking smart questions.
In doing this, you build a rapport with more of the right people, while growing your commercial acumen. And, when you combine the two with expert knowledge of regulatory frameworks, you’re unstoppable!
To give an example, during my time at EDF we went through corporate restructuring. I made sure everyone knew that I was ready and willing to apply my relationship skills, governance and regulatory knowledge, and commerciality to help senior management pre-empt problems.
These are the kind of bold moves that get you noticed and equip you for a strategic senior management position. However, I wouldn’t have been able to get to this stage in my career without having a strong support network behind me — which takes me to my final point.
“I sometimes liken the role of company secretary to being a spider — you’re in the middle of the web but uniquely connected to what’s happening on the outer edges.”
3. Don’t try to climb the ladder alone
The company secretary role can be an isolated one — you’re often the keeper of confidential information, and you may well be the only person who understands the complexity of your role. But if you put energy into building your networks — from joining professional bodies to attending events — you’ll soon find that there’s a unique sense of collegiality between company secretaries.
My network has acted as a sounding board and support system throughout my career. For instance, when I was looking for a mentor, I sought word-of-mouth recommendations and was advised to pick the person who “made me feel the least comfortable” — which is exactly what I did.
In turn, I now mentor other company secretaries so that I can give back to the community that’s helped me so much.
In short — if you can raise standards, break out of siloes and build the right relationships in your role as company secretary, you’ll put yourself in a position to take your career to new heights. Just don’t forget to pay it forward once you get there.
“If you can raise standards, break out of siloes and build the right relationships . . . you’ll put yourself in a position to take your career to new heights.”