We speak to the winner of the Chartered Governance Institute's Company Secretary of the Year 2018 award
Currently seconded to the Independent Review into the Quality and Effectiveness of Audit, Miranda Craig is supporting Sir Donald Brydon's comprehensive review of audit; its purpose, user needs and future direction. Prior to this, Miranda was Deputy Company Secretary at Sage and was responsible for leading the Secretariat team with a focus on bringing best practice in governance to the Sage Board, its committees and c.126 subsidiaries worldwide. It was in this role that she won the Chartered Governance Institute's Company Secretary of the Year Award in 2018. We speak to Miranda – who has also held senior secretariat roles at ARM Holdings, R&Q and EDF Energy, after qualifying as a chartered secretary with Ernst & Young – about culture, her current projects and diversity at the top.
At the ICSA Awards 2018, you won the Company Secretary of the Year award. What did it feel like to win?
It is certainly hard to describe! Having sat and watched many previous winners make the walk across the Hilton London on Park Lane ballroom it was slightly surreal to have to stand up and accept the award myself. I had suffered a back injury the week before and I very nearly did not attend and I probably wouldn't have if it weren't for encouragement from friends and my team. Once it sunk in though, it felt great to have received such recognition in front of my peers.
What has changed from then to now? Are there any different projects that you are working on?
It wouldn't be an understatement to say everything has changed. I am in a new role supporting Sir Donald Brydon with his Independent Review of Audit Quality and Effectiveness. That has been a fantastic opportunity to learn more about audit and spend time seeing how the team at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy work. Even though I'm only on secondment they've been hugely welcoming and I've also had many opportunities to engage with my governance colleagues elsewhere; through mentoring and at events such as the annual conference.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in governance?
If I'm honest, my first company secretarial role sort of happened rather than being a conscious choice. I had been working in a junior tax role, which I neither enjoyed nor was particularly good at. I had applied for another tax role I did not really want and was told I hadn't got it but was offered a role in the company secretarial team instead. It hadn't even occurred to me that the role of company secretary – which I had taken on during my school's Young Enterprise scheme – was a viable career path. I quickly found it had many aspects I enjoyed, such as organisation and planning, company law and so forth. Also, the sheer variety each day meant I jumped at the chance to ask for study support and qualify under what was then the Professional Programme. The rest, as they say, is history.
What are some of the biggest challenges in your role?
One of the biggest challenges in my current role has been navigating around a completely new working environment. Moving into the public sector for the first time has offered a host of new learning experiences, and I've had to adapt to navigating a world in which the public interest is paramount. It's been a real eye-opener, and I've seen plenty of good practice I would want to take with me back into the private sector. The steepest learning curve has been focusing on a single topic which has been audit. In my previous secretariat roles, there have always been dozens of competing priorities, and it is sometimes difficult to cover an area as comprehensively as one would like because compromises must be made in order to move on to the next thing at pace. With the Brydon Review I've had to shift into a different way of working, going much deeper and wider on the detail of every aspect of an audit. It's a much more studious way of working and took some getting used to.
What are some of the aspects that you feel most proud of in your work?
Winning last year's Company Secretary of the Year award has got to be up there, but in my day-to-day working life I feel most proud when I've made a difference to someone else. The Secretariat should be a hub which facilitates the smooth running of everything it touches, and that means being seen as technical subject matter experts as well individuals whose knowledge of the people and goings on around them is seen as valuable. Nothing makes my day more than when I receive a message of support from someone who values me or my team's work. For the same reason, I get a lot out of being part of the Institute's mentoring scheme. I benefitted as a mentee many years ago, and now I get the opportunity to do the same for others.
Recent updates to the UK Corporate Governance Code and company law include requirements for companies to report on their values and culture. What are some of the developments that you have observed?
I've seen a real shift in that more companies are really thinking about their core purpose and how that translates into values and culture. It's been brewing for a few years now since the FRC decided to focus more on culture and, I think in the past year in particular, a combination of factors including a perceived lack of public trust in business, investor focus on ESG issues, executive pay and the new s172 reporting requirements have caused boards to take a fresh look at what they do and more importantly, why they do it. I think that's all down the right path as one clear purpose is worth a hundred strategic objectives.
What are your thoughts on the progress made to improving diversity and inclusion at the top of companies?
On a personal level, something I've talked about publicly is feeling uncertain in some discussions about diversity and inclusion. I wouldn't ever want to feel like the 'token' female, I don't think anyone ever really wants to be the 'token' anything, do they? It is, of course, vital that all our workplaces reflect the population at large, and that's not just because it's the right thing to do but because it makes perfect business sense. I'm hugely supportive of thoughtful initiatives that aim to level the playing field or provide opportunities to any under-represented group, whether that be based on gender, ethnicity, disability or other criteria. The increased use of things like blind CV sifting and unconscious bias training means we are moving in the right direction, but there is still a lot to do. But it's important that change starts at the top, and that boards are thinking all the time about how best to represent the stakeholders they serve, which means considering diversity in its widest sense and creating inclusion opportunities to foster a strong pipeline of candidates.
What advice would you give to those beginning their governance career?
Cultivate the traits that will help you to be flexible and resilient, as no matter what you end up doing you will probably need to be both those things. Also, stay curious. One of the most attractive things about a career in governance is how broad and varied it can be because you can never stop learning. Finally, put effort into your network. I have a group of former colleagues who have become steadfast friends along the way, and they keep me sane and grounded. I can ask them stupid questions or test out ideas with them and they never judge but always give good, constructive criticism or unstinting support – whichever is needed. I hope they feel it works the same the other way.
What does the next year hold for you?
My first priority is seeing a Brydon Review report submitted to the Secretary of State, as Sir Donald committed to doing earlier this year. I will also be spending a lot of time studying as I recently started a part-time MSc course in data science, which I may yet live to regret. With so many exciting projects taking place in the governance space it can be difficult to decide what to do next.
Interview by Sonia Sharma, Editor of Governance and Compliance
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