30 January 2020 by Sonia Sharma
Chrissie Davis, Managing Director at Eximia Comms and Chartered Company Secretary speaks to Governance and Compliance about her entry into the profession and how her role has evolved
Well, it all started on a hack through the woods on my horse at the age of 21! I was studying history and was looking at moving on to a law conversion, but chatting to a CoSec as we ambled along on a sunny day, it opened my eyes to a new path… she sold it to me. I remember saying “I like the idea that it has a business/legal element with a twist – much more variety and is commercially broad. The only thing is, I’m studying history so who will hire me as I have no useful knowledge?”
I was reassured on the knowledge point as that’s what exams and on-the-job learning are for. As a result, I applied for two roles, opting for the listed FTSE250 company and the rest is history.
So, while many people often say they ‘fell’ into our profession, I would say I ‘trotted’ into it.
My responsibilities covered the full spectrum of the CoSec role you’d expect working for a premium listed company – anything from governance and compliance, listing disclosures, group structure, meetings prep and AGM support, to share plans.
In the midst of the financial crisis, the role concluded with a hostile takeover. This proved to be a great springboard into my next one, where I helped facilitate a successful rights issue.
Whilst at this FTSE100 company I also gained vital meetings experience, amongst other things. I then decided to move into financial services, allowing me to work on larger-scale projects.
I would say gaining experience across a broad remit before you specialise in any key area helps you gain an understanding of all aspects of the role, allowing you to join the dots, be more proactive and more strategic.
I’d say the main challenges were:
1. Keeping ahead of the ever-changing landscape of legislation and best practice
2. Global frameworks, complex group structures and cultural variations
3. Communicating corporate actions and share plans internally highlighted a lack of awareness and understanding of key topics.
People often ask me why I set up Eximia and my one-word response tends to be ‘frustration’.
I believe strongly in the place governance and compliance have in laying the foundations of a resilient organisation, and I was frustrated that few shared my passion.
It was time to change perceptions – from it being seen as red tape that inhibits efficient operational activities – to the best way to do good business and a competitive advantage that promotes trust and stability.
Having a framework supported by policies is all very well, but without a strategic approach to employee engagement and measured cultural shifts, we were missing a vital step and still leaving ourselves open to breaches and possible failure.
Employee engagement wasn’t at the forefront in 2012 when I established Eximia. We’ve since made great strides, with a focus on having a clearly defined purpose, a strong culture and employee engagement. We still have further to go.
Our people’s behaviour is the key to success and we can only achieve the awareness, understanding and cultural buy-in needed through exceptional communication. That means using clear language, giving context to ‘why’, connecting to other themes and having measured outcomes to learn from.
The role has certainly evolved but it still faces a legacy challenge of reputation, being largely seen as an admin function by some.
With politicians giving governance airtime, consumers becoming far more discerning about who they buy from and publicity around recent failures resulting in an overhaul of the Code, we’ve seen the rise in the importance of governance. This can only be good for company secretaries.
I think one of the biggest catalysts for change has been investors now being led by environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when making investment decisions, turning the focus away from purely profit to a broader perspective, including governance.
This is coupled with the advances in the use of automation, and while the likely timescales are debatable, Artificial Intelligence will also have a marked impact.
The elevated stature of governance will help us raise our profile as company secretaries and offer real opportunities, but to do this our mindset has to be open to change and the use of emerging technologies.
As an employer and a Fellow CoSec, I’d say:
1. Seize opportunities: be proactive and carve these out for yourself, put your hand up, suggest new things and be brave.
2. Be commercial: having an understanding of the industry and internal operations will help you develop as a strategic influencer.
3. Collaborate: project teams rather than individuals generate more innovative and entrepreneurial outcomes. Involve people early.
4. Be true to you: stick by your own purpose and values. They are your compass in times of change and uncertainty.
5. Learn: embrace life-long learning and strengthen EQ. Be curious, bold and have fun. Ask and take constructive feedback – it’s not criticism.
6. Network: share ideas, skills and questions. Be open to mentoring and being mentored to share value.
7. Be creative: whether it’s in communication or problem-solving, creativity is a highly-ranked skill of the future and you can develop it.
8. Challenge the process: this is our main guiding principle at Eximia. Anyone can roll a process forward, but those who interrogate it and ensure it is fit for purpose create far more value. Be a change maker – leave a legacy.