The importance of being flexible and open-minded in a Company Secretary or In-House Legal Counsel role has never been more important, and events of the last year have crystalised that. That’s the key insight that was shared by Origin Energy company secretary and winner of the Company Secretary of the Year award at the 2020 Women in Law Awards, Helen Hardy, in a wide-ranging interview on Lawyers Weekly.
“There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, different companies have different perspectives,” Hardy said in the interview. “So, I’ve always been connected to my counterparts at other companies, both listed and non-listed, and connected to peak bodies, like the Governance Institute and AICD, because without those external perspectives, you can only do so much.
“If you reach out, if you have the network around you and connect with people, your workload can be halved and your resources and thinking will be doubled. One thing that really enhanced this was during the pandemic where you couldn’t have your water cooler conversations with your colleagues. Most of us were isolated at home. Just having that community of extra support to share ideas, share challenges has been absolutely invaluable.”
Businesses across the entire gamut have developed a new-found respect for the Company Secretary and In-House Legal Counsel role over the course of the pandemic. Ensuring lines of communication remained open between the executive leadership and board, maintaining a calm and focused response across the organisation, and ensuring flexibility at a time where the situation could be changing daily were all tasks that fell on the Company Secretary.
At the same time, the Company Secretary and In-House Legal Counsel became the one to co-ordinate the efforts to keep staff safe, and developing solutions to allow the business operations to continue.
There have been a lot of balls in the air for professionals like Hardy to manage, and juggling them has re-emphasised some of the key traits that a great Company Secretary and In-House Legal Counsel should have, such as the ability to be collaborative and positive in approach, regardless of the circumstances. “And, have the courage to advocate for the right things and have the courage to stop the things that you don’t feel are quite right,” Hardy said in the Lawyer’s Weekly interview.“Have the courage to tell the board, ‘No’, and tell management, ‘You need to disclose more to the board’, or ‘You need to report this to the board’. Be the glue between your directors and senior executives,” she said.
While the pandemic response situation in Australia is calming to an extent, the renewed focus on the Company Secretary and In-House Legal Counsel role as a source of decisive, calm action and collaborative flexibility, as highlighted by Hardy’s experience, is here to stay.