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The times are still changing

26 June 2017 by Jeffrey Ridley

The times are still changing - read more

ICSA Fellow Jeffrey Ridley looks back on 50 years of governance

In my 50 years as a chartered secretary I have seen many changing times in the world – economically, environmentally and socially. Changing times that have impacted and influenced the roles of all chartered secretaries and changes to those who receive the services chartered secretaries provide.

My 50-year working life as a chartered secretary has been as an internal auditor, teacher and consultant – sometimes all three at the same time.

As an internal auditor working for a US multinational company, I was encouraged to join The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), founded in the US as an international body in 1941, with associations in many countries. In 1975, I was elected as its first President in a newly formed United Kingdom Institute of Internal Auditors.

What was the UK Chapter in 1975 received its Royal Charter in 2010 and is now the Chartered Institute of Internal Auditors for the UK and Ireland, still affiliated to The IIA in the US.

Presidential address

In my published IIA presidential address from 1975, I spoke of the changing times then, which still influence and impact us all today: ‘We live in times of high economic risk and important social and business decisions. Every day we are reminded at work, in newspapers and by television of the opportunities that can be taken to develop ourselves and the profession we have chosen.

‘The apparent insoluble problems of the present economic situation; involvement in the European Community; a new awareness of social responsibilities; higher health and safety standards; the now clearly recognised need for more efficient manpower planning and training; the urgency of energy saving; and the complexity of advanced computer technology are all changes that management cannot ignore, and neither can we … To be successful we must be sensitive to the problems of each day. All can have an impact on our professional activities far beyond the changes we may foresee at the present time.’

In whatever careers we have as chartered secretaries we should all continue to ask ourselves how we are addressing these changes in the professional roles we play – now even more as we move as a nation to leave the EU.

Principles of quality

As a member of ICSA, I contributed to the activities of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire branch in the 1980s and 90s and for part of that time was its Chairman.

Throughout all my careers I have promoted how quality can be achieved in all products and services, and at an early stage I decided to develop my own fundamental principles of customer satisfaction, management leadership, successful teamwork, measurement, and total commitment to continuous improvement.

These principles can be seen in best practices in all governance codes and for all professions. In the 1990s, I joined my company’s quality council and saw these principles in action across all levels of its operations. They only work well when there is total commitment to their quality messages.

More recently I have had contact with the Chartered Quality Institute and have been introduced to its new Quality Competency Framework for auditors. Each of its components is ‘structured around what we do – governance, assurance, improvement – the context in which we work and the behaviours we must show’. A message for us all that quality and governance must walk hand in hand, if not run, to achieve excellence in both.

Thirst for governance

My last career started in 1991 with an appointment as a visiting professor of auditing at London South Bank University, which I am still visiting, as well as the University of Lincoln. London South Bank was one of the universities selected by ICSA to collaborate with to develop a postgraduate education programme in corporate governance.

I had the privilege to teach and supervise research on this learning programme for a number of years, meeting many future members of our profession as they proceeded to graduation and join ICSA with their Master’s achievements.

This experience taught me there is a thirst for knowledge on corporate governance theory and principles from many different ages, backgrounds, genders and nationalities of students.

This thirst is growing and, evidenced by the importance of these principles, it is not just for compliance, but for improved performance in every type of organisation.

It will never be sufficient just to comply with corporate governance codes. Boards and executives must understand the stewardship and stakeholder theories from which they have been developed. All chartered secretaries have a role to play in this understanding.

Evaluation and improvement

I have learnt over many years of auditing and academic life the ‘evaluation and improvement’ of governance practices embraces not just ‘comply or explain’ with a written code of governance. Underpinning all the principles of good corporate governance practice in every sector and country must be a drive for improved performance.

The culture required for good governance in an organisation must be one that seeks to create and innovate best practices for its economy, effectiveness and efficiency.

Economy: To be sustainable and have long-term goals to contribute to the success of its enterprises and the delight of all its stakeholders

Effectiveness: To do the right thing by creating organisational strategies, structures and systems to achieve its vision, mission and values

Efficiency: To do things right first time in all its operations and practices to achieve the right quality of outputs and outcomes for all its stakeholders.

This ‘3E’ fundamental principle is established in many organisations today as ‘value for money’, but it is about more than just money. From my experiences it has to be seen as an important part of all good governance practices in an organisation’s performance – not just financial, but environmental and social impact in all the civil societies in which it is engaged.

These are not just my own thoughts. They generate from the United Nations as international requirements and guidelines for all its member nations. They must be ours and promoted by all chartered secretaries in the future.

Established status

I am very pleased in my 50th year of membership and still active academic career to see chartered secretaries being promoted and recognised in their very important corporate governance role. The institute’s new branding as ‘The Governance Institute’ and its professional qualification have now established it with that status at board, executive and operational levels in organisations of all sizes across all sectors and nations.

New generations of chartered secretaries will have to continue to maintain and develop that status as more changes make the world shrink through speed of travel, greater risks, faster communications and digital networking beyond our imaginations.

We already see this happening in and across all continents. If the UN Human Rights Charter and 2030 Sustainability Goals are to transform the world, there will be many more changes to challenge us all before good governance exists in the performance of all organisations.

As my last career comes to an end, the times are still changing for chartered secretaries. You will all have an important part to play in the governance of tomorrow’s world.

Jeffrey Ridley FCIS is a Visiting Professor, School of Business at London South Bank University, and the International Business School at the University of Lincoln

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