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Case Study: Madeleine Scrafton, Head of Governance at HSBC Holdings plc

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

Maddie Scrafton, FCG, is currently Head of Governance for the Board of HSBC Holdings plc, ensuring corporate governance, listing and regulatory obligations are met. As part of her role, she is the Corporate Governance Officer for Transformation and Compliance. This involves managing the meeting governance for the Bank’s Transformation Programme and working closely with the Transformation and Compliance teams to facilitate governance processes between the function, the Group Executive Committee and the Board.

What is governance?

Maddie describes governance as 'enabling'. Good governance enables businesses to perform better and make more informed decisions.

‘Enabling’ is the first word that came into my head, followed by lots of other words including facilitating, and supporting.

What is a governance professional?

For Maddie, the role of a governance professional is someone who acts as a facilitator who connects the organisation – who supports the board and management to improve decision making, promotes good governance and ensures compliance. They will always need to balance the bigger picture with the critical detail. 

Maddie most enjoys the relationships that can be developed, especially those built on trust and respect. 

Developing relationships to the point that people really trust you, be that with a stakeholder or someone on your team, you means you can collaborate and achieve much better outcomes. 

Maddie acknowledges that all company secretarial roles have an element of admin to them and that it can add variety. There are times when you can find yourself spending too much time on basic admin and you may question whether you are adding value. This can usually be rectified by seeking out constructive conversations with stakeholders. 

The route to a career in governance

Entirely unrelated to governance, Maddie did a nutrition degree at Oxford Brooks University. Maddie knew she wanted to study something she was interested in at university, that would motivate her during her degree. For Maddie, Oxford Brookes University was the perfect choice as they offered one of the best Nutrition courses around and offered an enjoyable student experience. Maddie knew that doing a science degree would require a lot of attention to detail and this was a key takeaway for her future career. She reckons that about 50% of her time in her job now is spent trying to make the complicated simple and remembers having to wade through the abundance of information about dieting, yet understood that you could simplify this into a clear understanding of nutrition and healthy eating. 

With healthy eating, you can boil it down to very simple rules - that's what I took from my degree and I applied that to my work.

Following her nutrition degree, Maddie did what lots of people do when they leave university, she had no idea what she wanted to do next! Maddie went into recruitment, which gave her a better idea about the worlds of finance, the city and big business. Placing accountants at investments banks gave Maddie a new commercial perspective, as well as the ability to pick up the phone to talk to absolutely anyone – excellent training for a company secretarial role. 

Maddie didn't stay in recruitment for long but she liked the business and culture at Hydrogen Group, so took up a role as Executive Assistant where she gained the insight and skills of a company secretary at an entry level. She had the support of the Executive Chairman, CEO and other mentors, who encouraged her development. 

The essential skill for success in governance

Maddie thinks how you are perceived can be as important as what you know. That is because your stakeholders need to have the confidence that you can help them to deliver. Maddie believes that the shift from being the person who carries out task to being the person who advises stakeholders is one of the biggest challenges Company Secretaries face in their careers – it is important to overcome self-doubt. 

Maddie thinks it is absolutely up to company secretaries to make the role understood and make it valued, but it does mean different things to different organisations. At HSBC, the role of the company secretary is very deeply embedded and is a valued part of the organisation. For some smaller or less developed organisations, you have to approach governance in a way that is fit for purpose and benefits the business – it may not need to be ‘best practice’. Reiterating the value of the company secretary to a business, along with developing strong relationships, allows you to create the right balance of governance. 

Career highlight

One of Maddie's career highlights was managing a compliance remediation project for a global bank which spanned 8 countries and took over a year. It involved engaging teams, problem solving, finding ways to simplify and deliver using technology, managing stakeholders, lots of travel and diplomacy. She learnt a lot from the project but in particular that she had the ability to lead and unify teams. 

How did the Institute support your career as a governance professional?

When the business needed Maddie to focus on company secretarial work, she enrolled in the Chartered Governance Qualifying Programme. Whilst studying and carrying our her company secretarial responsibilities simultaneously, Maddie quickly gained lots of experience. She admits she made a lot of mistakes but learnt from them. She was supported by her organisation which Maddie found invaluable, and brave! Maddie’s responsibilities included: managing the board and committee meetings, developing the corporate governance framework, project managing the annual report, running the committee meetings, managing the RNS announcements and the listing rules, looking after the entities and managing share schemes. While she had lots of support, it was a beneficial grounding. Maddie then went to her next role at EY as a Manager in their Entity Compliance and Governance team. 

Words of wisdom for your governance career

Maddie thinks that different companies and different sectors can add variety to the company secretary role. 

Over the last five years or so we have seen a huge change in how governance careers have been positioned, especially with the advice, support networks and the opportunities that are out there. There are many different roles in different types of companies and sectors and each of these approach governance in a slightly different way. 

When hiring, Maddie looks for those who have an unreserved interest and are tenacious.Being self-aware and developing your own skills is key to the role of a company secretary. Her advice for career development has always been: understand what your strengths are and what you are going to need to develop. The Chartered Governance Institute offers a number of training courses that can support your development. Maddie suggests mentorship schemes, again like the one at the Institute, where you are able to have open conversations and gain a view of what roles might work for you and what you want to do in the future.

To find out more about a career in governance, check out the events and programmes available on their employer profile.