Career Path

The Company Secretary: the company's conscience

by Susie Gyöpös

Company Secretary
Davy Lee Kwok Fai
Company Secretary, Lippo Ltd.
President of the
Hong Kong Institute of Company Secretaries (HKICS)

Possibly one of the most misunderstood professions is that of Company Secretary, conjuring up images of a glorified typist in the minds of the uninitiated, which may explain the shortage of professionally-qualified company secretaries in Hong Kong. However, the Institute of Company Secretaries' emblem of a secretary bird holding a key in its beak provides a clue ...

"The term secretary means someone who can be entrusted with secrets. We're in touch with senior people and possess information which may be highly confidential or price-sensitive, and must ensure there's no leakage," explains Mr. Davy Lee Kwok Fai, the Company Secretary of Lippo Ltd. and President of the Hong Kong Institute of Company Secretaries (HKICS).

A dedicated career

Graduating in 1981 from the then Hong Kong Polytechnic, Mr. Lee has enjoyed over 20 years in this profession. Initially hired as a trainee by a British listed group, one year on he transferred to a smaller listed company, working as the Assistant Company Secretary. Admitted as an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ACIS, ACS) in 1983, he then joined the Lippo Group as their Company Secretary. He is now responsible for the group's corporate secretarial management, legal compliance, human resources management and general administration, plus the directorship of various major subsidiaries

"Ultimately, company secretaries are the company's conscience"

Mr. Lee was also admitted as an Associate of the Institute of Bankers in 1989, elected a Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Company Secretaries (FCIS, FCS) in 1995 and is a founder member of the Company Secretaries' Panel as well as the current HKICS President.

The big picture

"We carry out a number of important jobs," he notes. "We organize different meetings, such as shareholders' meetings and directors' meetings, etc. Before these take place, we prepare papers and carry out much co-ordination work for departments such as finance and accounts. During a meeting, we take the position of advisor."

Figures provided by Levin Human Resources Development Ltd.

"The work is also external," Mr. Lee adds. "We are the contact for external people, such as shareholders, securities analysts, reporters and appropriate regulatory authorities such as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange."

Training is split into three areas. "The first is commercial law and company secretarial procedures. The second incorporates finance and taxation and the third human resources and office administration."

Qualified company secretaries therefore have three career options. One is to specialize as a company secretary in either the commercial or professional field, for CPA or law firms with their own company secretary departments. "Other Associate Members take up work in finance, as accountants, investment managers or tax consultants," he notes, while the third group focuses on human resources or administration.

"Be trustworthy, hardworking and patient"

Although responsibility, integrity and accuracy are essential, Mr. Lee emphasizes that the most important skill is communication. "When you're preparing for meetings, you have to co-ordinate this with various departments. You may have to push them to act fast - without being too authoritative or aggressive! You also communicate with senior people, such as members of the board of directors. Ultimately, company secretaries are the company's conscience."

The fast track to directorship

The HKICS Qualifying Scheme includes 17 subjects at foundation, pre-professional and professional levels, studied over two to five years, and successful finalists are automatically transferred to Graduateship. Five years' experience with a relevant organization before, during or after the examination is then required to qualify as an Associate Member. The final stage is as a Fellow Member, although this isn't easy as individuals must be over 30, with about eight to ten years' experience, and pass the Membership Committee's assessment.

Ultimately, the many years of study, integrity and skills do pay off. "The beauty of our profession is that this is really a short-cut to becoming top management or even a member of the board of directors," Mr. Lee emphasizes.

China Opportunities

"Hong Kong company secretaries can operate in PRC companies - especially those seeking a listing position in HK," comments Mr Lee. "They can bring in modern, up-to-date compliance and bring controls and corporate governance skills up to international standards, as well as international practice relating to HR management and office administration."

Enhancing compliance and corporate governance skills to suit WTO standards and requirements is another option. "In mainland China, positions can be found as board secretaries, company secretaries, HR managers or administration managers," he adds.

Figures provided by
Levin Human Resources Development Ltd.

Taken from Career Times 28 June 2002, p. 32
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