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Aug 03, 2015

Canada shines spotlight on corporate secretary’s expanded role

As corporate secretaries take more on their shoulders, the need for professional recognition grows

The Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries has been trying to draw much more attention, through its educational programs, to the expanded importance and complexity of the corporate secretary’s role in Canadian organizations over the past 20 years. This will be the focus of a plenary session at the CSCS annual conference to be held in Montreal August 16-19, titled ‘The chief governance officer: the new role of the corporate secretary.’

The idea that the corporate secretary should be viewed as the organization’s chief governance officer isn’t new, says CSCS president Lynn Beauregard. With the advent of changes over the last 20 years such as ‘heavier regulation, compliance, the focus on accountability, transparency, tone at the top, there’s been so much more landing on the shoulders of the corporate secretary. Really, at the end of the day, that role is the role of the person steering the governance processes in the organization.’

What probably has not kept pace with the new reality is the level of recognition that should come with this greatly expanded role, she adds. ‘They are traffic controller, negotiator, the one who’s essentially responsible to some degree and accountable for defining best governance practices for management and for executing those, or at least ensuring there’s continuity’ in practices, she says.

Beauregard acknowledges that in Canada the corporate secretary position is often a hybrid role, with so many different iterations that it may be difficult to claim that everyone who holds the title deserves to be regarded as his or her company’s chief governance officer. Still, among those who are being entrusted with much more responsibility, ‘many of our members struggle with getting that recognition and appreciation from not only their board but their C-suite,’ she says. ‘Many have a very senior title and senior role in the organization, but not all of them do. Certainly, some of them still struggle with the image that the corporate secretary is an administrative board secretary, when it’s much more than that.’

Lesley Ross, corporate secretary at Tarion Warranty Corp, is one CSCS member who looks forward to the annual conference each year. ‘[There are] great workshops and plenary sessions lined up that will help me be a key contributor to enhance the overall effectiveness of my board,’ she said in an email.

One way CSCS ensures that its members receive the recognition they deserve is through the Excellence in Governance Awards it bestows at a gala dinner on the opening night of the conference. The awards honor things such as best approach to board and committee support, best practices in strategic planning, oversight and value creation and best practices to enhance boardroom diversity – all issues that will be discussed on conference panels this year.

CSCS also knows how to throw a festive closing night party that celebrates local culture and enables its members to let loose and develop deeper bonds with each other.

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Speaking of overdue recognition, the deadline for nominations for Corporate Secretary’s own Corporate Governance Awards was Friday, July 31, although we are continuing to accept late submissions if notified. And we throw a pretty great party ourselves, which is a wonderful way to show appreciation for the governance experts in your company who have been working so hard behind the scenes. For more information, click here.

David Bogoslaw

Associate Editor and Online features producer for Corporate Secretary