What makes a great company secretary?
The company secretary plays a critical role in upholding standards of excellence in corporate governance and compliance of any company. But what does it take to be a truly outstanding and effective officer in this field? Star Anise Senior Consultant, Michael Kwan, takes a look.
Practically all types of organisations have a need to hire one or more company secretaries, from corporate service providers, accountancy and other professional service firms, law firms, private companies, financial institutions, MNCs, and Hong Kong GEM and Main Board listed companies. My aim is to identify company secretarial professionals at all levels (from officer level to named company secretary or Team Head) and in my experience of sourcing candidates in this field, there are some common key qualities that I find employers are always looking for, regardless of the industry it's in, the size of organisation or nature of business.
1. You have great organisational skills
Company secretaries are faced with a multitude of work tasks and deadlines that they need to keep track of – preparing announcements, circulars, Annual Reports, arranging board meetings and post-meeting actions, liaising with external stakeholders such as institutional investors, lawyers and accountants, and so on. This is not an occupation for those who have difficulty in multi-tasking!
2. You have relevant qualifications
In Hong Kong, to succeed as a company secretary, becoming a member of the Hong Kong Institute of Chartered Secretaries (HKICS) is a must. There are different membership types but for those who want to progress up the career-ladder, candidates need to be Associate Members. For a detailed explanation on how to become an Associate Member of HKICS, visit their website here.
Meanwhile, possessing a Masters degree in Corporate Governance or a degree in Law will be very highly regarded, in some cases essential, whilst some organisations will also value Chartered Accountants.
3. Your integrity is second to none
This one is obvious. If I was to sum up why the profession of a company secretary exists in one sentence, it would be along the lines of: to uphold high levels of corporate governance through advising directors/management/shareholders on ensuring the company complies with relevant regulations. This entire profession is based around integrity, so if you don’t demonstrate this or are not able to project this quality during an interview – you won’t be able to go far.
4. You're a problem solver
The company secretary is tasked with helping their company comply with relevant regulation such as the Companies Ordinance, Listing Rules, as well as the Securities and Futures Ordinance, amongst others. Often, companies may change their business direction, or introduce new services or products which are impacted by these ever changing regulations and it’s up to the company secretary to ensure that the company remains compliant.
It’s not enough to regurgitate the rules and regulations at every board meeting – directors want commercially sound advice and solutions. In addition, in the ever growing world of corporate governance, ‘prevention is better than cure’, and company secretaries are increasingly being expected to devise risk-management type solutions, protocols and strategies to ensure the business collectively is operating under standard procedure.
5. You communicate well and effectively
Regardless of what kind of organisation you work for, a company secretarial professional must have excellent communication skills in order to climb the corporate ladder. And this applies to both the written and spoken form.
As a junior officer, you might be able to get away with focusing purely on paper work. But as you become more senior, expectations rise on your ability to develop and manage junior staff, train other colleagues in the company on compliance or corporate governance matters, and understanding how the company secretarial team should function smoothly with, and support, business units. And by that, you need to develop a relationship with your colleagues, you need to probe and investigate, and coax as much information out of people as possible in order to prove your findings.
For those working for corporate service providers, company secretaries would need to deal with clients directly, those working at banks would be dealing with bankers and senior management, those at private or listed companies would be facing directors, board members and shareholders.
You need to be able to communicate with absolute clarity, confidence and gravitas, and depending on the organisation, in both English and Putonghua. So start honing those communication skills early in your career for a head start.