02 July 2014
Research led by Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse of Henley Business School demonstrates the significant contribution that good company secretaries make to board performance and strategic leadership.
‘The Company Secretary: Building trust through governance’ conducted in collaboration with ICSA, engaged more than 200 company secretaries, chairmen, NEDs and CEOs – encompassing FTSE, SME and private, not-for-profit and public sector boards in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, and internationally-based organisations.
At the launch presentation on 2 July, Andrew Kakabadse revealed some of the key functions that the best company secretaries manage adeptly, such as handling ambiguity, building trust and acting as facilitator and enabler to successful board interactions. He honed in on the key personal attributes common to those who succeed in the role: a reflective approach; the ability to guide and steer; a mature outlook; and a forward-looking and flexible mind set. He also spoke about the ‘majesty’ of the role which he explained as the ability to rise above political disruption and maintain a statesmanlike approach.
Commenting on the findings the Chairman of Marks and Spencer plc, Robert Swannell said, ‘There are few other roles in senior management that are as flexible in their scope or require such a breadth of skills from the technical to the diplomatic; all this has to be wrapped up in the absolute trustworthiness that is an essential part of the job.’
Some of these skills develop over time and with experience but Dame Alison Carnwath, Chairman of Land Securities points out that the value of training cannot be overlooked: 'ICSA-qualified company secretaries deliver a more rounded governance and board member service than those who have come to the role via other professional routes. There is much to be said for the additional technical skills that such a qualification can bring.'
The study showed that company secretaries are often the longest-serving board members whose wealth of knowledge about company history and culture provides continuity and a bridge between board and the executive. Sir Richard Olver, Chairman of BAE agrees:
'People who think that the role of company secretary is purely administrative are living in the past. I believe that the role has grown exponentially, particularly in the years following the financial crisis. I know that during my time as chairman, I relied heavily on the knowledge and strategic judgement of the company secretary.'
The research can be viewed in full at www.icsa.org.uk/cosecreport