Telling someone in a bar you are a company secretary is, unfortunately, not going to kick start the conversation – unless the bar is next to a venue hosting an ICSA event which has just finished, leaving everyone thirsty. In this case your chances might improve. It is a role which is often misunderstood and not spoken about enough at careers fairs or in general society but it has much to offer in terms of job satisfaction, as I have discovered.
I am, essentially, the trainee company secretary of ICSA in the UK, Republic of Ireland and Associated Territories, or UKRIAT for short. I started at ICSA in a recruitment role and was fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to join the secretariat, along with study support. I had previously applied for a trainee company secretary position but was told that, owing to lack of secretariat experience, I was unsuitable for the role. I know first hand how difficult it is to find a CoSec role and I am ever so grateful for the chance to join the secretariat.
As well as the job I have also received study support and have been enrolled on the MSc Corporate Governance course at London South Bank University since September 2013. I hope to finish this summer and would like to apply for Associateship of ICSA in November. The job is without doubt the most enjoyable, interesting and challenging I have worked in. This is because every day is different, I get to be at the heart of the business, and also have opportunities to network with some of the most senior figures in the company secretarial industry.
People often say that there is no such thing as an average day in their job, and I think it is definitely the case for company secretaries. The remit is so vast that you will be hard pushed to find two similar days. An average day at ICSA generally begins with a review of the coming weeks and what the major jobs are. There will, undoubtedly, be a set of minutes to draft or a meeting to organise or attend, and perhaps a company or trade mark filing to deal with. Other things include being involved in the drafting of the annual report, liaising with other parts of the business on the responsibilities of UKRIAT, drafting notices and member communications for Governance and Compliance magazine or our email newsletter In the loop.
A large part of the role is forward-planning for events and other deadlines which may be many months off. Planning for elections to the UKRIAT Committee, for example, will begin at least six months before.
ICSA has certainly changed a lot since I started. We have moved offices from Regents Park to Farringdon, our constitution has changed (for the better) and during the past year we have revised and added a number of governance policies to make UKRIAT more robust and fit for purpose. A brand new website was launched last year and the governance section has been given a much needed lift. There is always more we can do and I think the team at ICSA is always happy to improve things.
The profession is still enshrined in company law, at least for publicly listed companies. For private companies and other organisations the role is also important because the work still needs to be done. There are many challenges ahead but it is an interesting time be building this career and would urge anyone to consider it. It is a rare thing to find a role which genuinely makes you happy but I think many people reading this would agree that a company secretarial role is underrated and certainly fulfilling. I was recently invited to join a forum of young company secretaries and, although I have only been to one meeting so far, it was encouraging to see a group of enthusiastic young people who will hopefully be at the top of the profession in the future. Yes, there are times where you have to work late, but for me it is good to feel involved with the business. ICSA has given me an opportunity and I feel that I have seized it.
My short-term plans are to become a member of ICSA and to gain some experience in a listed company. Longer term I hope to be a group company secretary of a listed company. If an opportunity to work abroad presents itself I will certainly consider it (note to all international company secretaries out there).
My advice to anyone interested in pursuing a career as a company secretary would be this: develop strong communication skills, both written and verbal; seize any opportunity to gain some relevant work experience – a foot in the door can open up all sorts of opportunities; and enter the competition for the trainee secretary role which is being advertised on the ICSA website (Fast track to the boardroom) – this is an opportunity to get relevant work experience and study support in a brilliant organisation.
|Craig Willox is Assistant Secretary at ICSA: The Governance Institute|