Three recent Master’s graduates of the University of Portsmouth’s School of Law feel they are privy to a well kept secret.
All three have well-paying jobs found before they even graduated, all are set to rise to senior positions and all three stumbled across the Master’s course that opened doors to them by chance.
Meet Teresa Holmes, 23, Catherine Ellis, 25, and Olly Strawbridge, 23. They signed up for a Master’s degree in Corporate Governance and Law accredited by the Institute of Company Secretaries Association (ICSA) and are now well-paid and well-regarded company secretaries.
If you equate the word ‘Secretary’ with Miss Moneypenny tapping away on a typewriter you need to think again.
Company secretaries are the people the Directors turn to for advice on a range of business issues including conflicts of interest, the development of strategy and corporate planning. They are, in effect, an organisation's 'corporate conscience' and as such are highly valued by employers in all sectors. A career as a chartered secretary is the sixth best paid profession in the country, according to the 2011 Guardian’s Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.
The School of Law’s LLM Corporate Governance and Law/Grad.ICSA course provides students with a higher education postgraduate degree and a professional qualification from the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA), and it’s open to graduates of other disciplines as well as those with law degrees.
Catherine Ellis said: "Undertaking a postgraduate qualification was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as it gave me all the foundations I needed to start my career and helped me to develop quickly.
"Many people don’t know what a chartered secretary is and I still get asked if I make the tea! What they don’t realise is it’s a really meaty role, which sits somewhere between an accountant and a solicitor. It’s my responsibility to ensure good governance of the company and I’m the first point of contact for directors seeking advice. It’s also a great role for seeing the decision-making of a business.”
In January 2013, Catherine was voted winner of ‘The One to Watch’ at the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) Company Secretaries Awards. The award recognises recent achievement and future potential in those in the early stages of their careers. The judges looked at the impact candidates had in managing tasks and activities and contributing to overall performance, and the likelihood that each candidate was destined to be a top company secretary.
Catherine said: "It was a great sense of achievement winning the award and a professional accolade. More than anything it means I’ve been doing my job right.
"My employer is delighted too and thinks it’s a great achievement.”
Catherine embarked on her career as a company secretary while writing her dissertation in her final year at university.
She said: "The best aspects of the job include all the project work that you get involved in – you go to meetings and hear what all the issues are affecting the business. Anything that is of a sensitive nature often goes through the company secretary so you get to see a lot of interesting items. No two days are ever the same and the workload is varied.”
When Olly Strawbridge graduated with a BA in History he realised an undergraduate degree alone might not be enough.
He said: "Towards the end of my degree it dawned upon me that I was about to enter the real world and didn't really have a plan. All I knew is that I wanted to be successful, both in terms of having a rewarding career and financially.
"A friend told me about the Corporate Governance and Law/Grad.ICSA course which I soon viewed as a ‘golden gateway’. It was a way of accessing the corporate world.”
Olly successfully applied to work as company secretarial assistant for Chemring Group PLC before he graduated in 2011, initially working part-time to enable him to complete his dissertation.
He said: "I haven't looked back since. Most people in similar jobs are having to study while working full-time to achieve the ICSA qualification.
"I know some people at university who struggled to get work, others who got work related to their degree, and others who got unrelated work. The course was good in this respect as the ICSA accreditation provided a route into a fulfilling and financially rewarding profession.”
Olly has remained in contact with the university, mentoring current post-graduate students wishing to follow in his footsteps.
Teresa Holmes won the award for best performing student after finishing her Master’s in Corporate Governance and Law/Grad.ICSA in 2012.
She graduated with a BA in Spanish and Italian the year before and is now a trainee secretarial assistant.
She said: "When I first started university I had no idea what type of career I wanted to pursue. During my second year I was introduced to the notion of corporate social responsibility and it was from that my interest in corporate governance arose.”
Making the leap from languages to law was not always easy but Teresa wasn’t fazed and just hours before she graduated she was awarded a prize from the Worshipful Company of Chartered Secretaries Charitable Trust as highest performing student.
Her tutor from the School of Law Charles Barker said: "All credit must go to Teresa. She was the best performing student and one of only two distinctions in her year.
"She came from an entirely different discipline to many of her fellow students, most of whom had studied law at undergraduate level, and yet managed to finish the course top of her class.
"She is an inspiration to people anxious about doing a law degree after studying languages, humanities or social sciences because she has showed it can be done and the personal and professional rewards are very clear.”
The Corporate Governance and Law/Grad.ICSA course at Portsmouth Business School can be studied over one year full-time, or over three years part-time. It is validated by both the University of Portsmouth and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) and graduates are entitled to use ‘LLM’ and, upon joining ICSA, ‘Grad.ICSA’ after their name.
Qualification provides an accelerated route to senior positions and members of ICSA can be found working as company secretaries, chief executives in both the public and private sectors, senior positions in the administration of schools and hospitals, offshore investment trust administrators and share registrars.
To find out more, visit the course pages: http://www.port.ac.uk/courses/coursetypes/postgraduate/LLMCorporateGovernanceAndLawGradICSA/
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