Natalie Gracie: Finding Your Voice

Author:Mr Henry Ker

The winner of The One to Watch at the ICSA Awards 2017 discusses challenging senior managers, learning in a new role, and the future of board papers

How does it feel to win The One to Watch?

Obviously I am delighted, and still a little bit shocked. I really enjoyed attending the awards dinner and meeting so many great people from our profession. ICSA stands for everything I believe is important about running a business well - ethical, effective governance. So I am incredibly proud to have won this award so early in my career.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in governance?

I completed an LLB [bachelor of laws] a year and a half ago. It was while studying my company law module that I came across the role of the company secretary for the first time. I became immediately intrigued by the role of 'mysterious keeper of secrets'.

As I neared the end of my LLB I realised that I was more interested in pursuing a career in governance than in legal practice. When my professor was contacted by Scottish Widows to ask if any of his final year students might be interested in filling a secretariat vacancy, I decided to apply.

From that point my feet did not really touch the ground. I got the job and began working part time at Scottish Widows straight away, then full time once I completed my degree.

What are your role's biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge for any new role is learning what you need to know to do your new job well. For me, joining a massive business like Scottish Widows, this was a significant challenge - even more so when you consider that Scottish Widows itself is part of the wider Lloyds Banking Group.

I am naturally a very inquisitive person, so I set about learning as much as much as possible as quickly as possible, which included masses of reading on our intranet and constitutional documents related to the companies and committees we look after.

"For company secretaries generally, I believe a key challenge is that the role is often misunderstood and frequently overlooked"

I was also mentored closely in my first months and was encouraged not just to hit the books, but to make as many contacts as possible throughout the organisation.

I went along to lots of product talks, 'town hall' presentations by leaders and 'cultural cafes' where colleagues from different backgrounds share stories and explore cultures. As an avid traveller, I was particularly drawn to the cultural cafes.

For company secretaries generally, I believe that a...

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