Describe your day job
My job title is Company Secretary & General Counsel. I have the usual responsibilities that go with the role, including being the governance champion and ensuring the business has the proper level of legal support and operates within the law. In addition, I have responsibility for external affairs and corporate communications, food safety and health & safety policy and compliance, pensions administration, business assurance and risk management. I chair the operational Risk Committee within Greggs, and also the Corporate Social Responsibility Steering Group.
What skills are needed to be a good Company Secretary?
I believe there are three main elements to the role of Company Secretary in a listed company. The first is to have the technical knowledge and understanding to ensure that the company complies with the relevant stock exchange rules wherever it is listed, and meets the local legal, governance and other requirements placed on companies. Secondly, the ability to be objective – it’s important to be supportive of colleagues but also prepared to challenge when necessary. Finally, you must be pragmatic; there is no point in putting in place processes that are anything other than business-focussed and workable, (as well as compliant of course!).
What’s the best thing about being Company Secretary at Greggs?
Working from my native North East, within a successful and responsible branded retail business, and being surrounded by great-tasting fresh food! This means being part of the team responsible for leading the business, but also supporting the communities in which our shops, bakeries and offices are located.
And what’s the biggest challenge?
Trying to make sure that the business can operate within the law without unnecessary constraints and bureaucracy. Ultimately, that challenge is to ensure that we all know the legal rules that apply to our business, but then to incorporate them into words and actions that allow our shop and bakery teams to set about doing what they do best – serving customers.
Where and how did you start your career?
Having completed part of my legal training in my father’s small law firm in Darlington, I qualified as a Solicitor in March 1989 into a slightly larger high street law firm, doing my fair share of dog bite claims, divorces and disputes — including working on a case that involved nearly half a million pounds worth of milk delivery rounds! My real desire was to get into an in-house commercial legal role, which I did within two years of qualifying, and I have now been in-house for 25 years. My first Company Secretary role was in 1997, in a SmallCap listed engineering business.
What advice would you give to aspiring young business leaders?
Be ready to respond whenever new opportunities to develop yourself emerge. Get the best from every experience you encounter and remember the learnings you take. And when you live through a crisis, remember that the managerial development comes not from being a crisis manager, but from spotting the crises and preventing them from happening in the future.