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The Right Direction

19 June 2019 by Sara Drake

The Right Direction

Boardrooms of the future need to be fully equipped to deal with both challenges and opportunities

With this year’s annual conference in London marking the start of my time as chief executive, ‘The Future Board’ theme perfectly encapsulates how I see ICSA’s role in the governance world.

With Brexit, the trade war between the USA and China, the UK’s embattled high street and governance failures in all sectors of the economy creating political and economic uncertainty in recent years, we can see that the role of the governance professional as a trusted advisor is now more important than ever. Boards need futureproofing to help them rise to the challenge of whatever turmoil or opportunity awaits.

If boards are to be prepared for the future then there needs to be someone pointing them in the right direction. This is what we equip our members and students to do, which is why this year’s conference covers many of the key areas of focus that boardrooms all around the world are grappling with: board leadership; ethics, culture and purpose; governance and reporting; and audit and risk management.

Clearly effective board leadership is a vital component of success. If that is lacking, then organisations are like rudderless boats heading for the rocks, with no-one able to steer them to safety. We have some excellent speakers this year who will be encouraging us to see how boards might rise to the challenge through agile working and succession planning. They will also be pinpointing some key areas of consideration, including trends spotted across the FTSE 100. We also have sessions about board evaluation, board preparation and how to identify toxic behaviour in the boardroom.

Three aspects of boardroom practice which have seen a marked increase in emphasis since the financial crisis are ethics, culture and purpose. With governments and regulators placing renewed pressure on boards to engage in all three areas, we will be looking at purpose beyond profit, environmental social governance (ESG), corporate culture, ethical supply chains, conflicts of interest and business judgements. These are particularly important as there are increasingly high expectations of how companies should behave and where their responsibilities lie.

We will be using the governance and reporting sessions to drill down into some of the bread and butter aspects of governance work, such as investor engagement, directors’ duties, cyber security and best practice for remuneration committees. As regulators push for companies to more effectively articulate their corporate purpose, values and culture in order to encourage a more long-term approach, company secretaries must be able to communicate these messages to the wider world and our speakers will be showing delegates how to do this successfully. Similarly employee engagement is another important area of focus, with a greater understanding of its critical role in a company’s long-term strategy.

It goes without saying that we will be looking at some of the hot issues that are pushing the governance, risk and compliance agenda, such as audit, regulation technology (RegTech) and blockchain.

We will also be providing some practical lessons in crisis management. At a time when being able to demonstrate a higher purpose than simply making money is becoming a business critical issue, it is vital that future boards are knowledgeable about the types of issues that their stakeholders are concerned by and what might tip over into a crisis.

Just as governance professionals ensure that directors are provided with the knowledge and skills that they need to govern effectively, our members and students need to make time for their own personal development.

The art of managing upwards, harnessing diversity of thought and creativity to improve team effectiveness and combatting imposter syndrome will all be covered, along with sessions on mental wellbeing and acting as a changemaker. I am delighted that the role of the company secretary as changemaker will be an important theme for us this year as we seek to show how company secretaries can use their inherent problem-solving skills to make a real difference. Events will be arranged throughout the year and I hope that these will stimulate a powerful debate about how crucial a role you do, and can, play.

I look forward to meeting many of you at this year’s conference and hope that you will take the opportunity to introduce yourselves to the branch chairs and members of the Saffron House team who will be in attendance over the course of the two days.

Sara Drake is CEO of ICSA: The Governance Institute

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