Jenny Farrer was recently announced as one of the 2023 Governance HOT 100 winners in the Technical Experts category, sat down with David Press to discuss her achievements and her career journey to date. Jenny is currently the Group Company Secretary and General Counsel at CVS Group, where she has been for the past year. Prior to this, she worked at G's Group.
- How did you become a company secretary/governance professional?
Most people fall into becoming a Company Secretary, but I can honestly say that it was a profession that had always interested me. When I graduated from university I dabbled with accountancy training contracts and the law conversion course but was intimidated by the requirement to specialise. I had picked up a booklet on the role of the Company Secretary in the university careers office and was drawn to the profession as it promised variety and the opportunity to work for a wide spectrum of organisations. At that time, I had no idea how to get into the profession, so I headed to London and found an administrative job working for a shipping company. Their Company Secretary was really supportive of my aspirations and eventually, with his encouragement, I secured a trainee position with Corus (previously British Steel) and the rest is history.
- What has been your biggest career achievement to date?
It’s not easy to pinpoint one achievement over a career that has spanned twenty years. My first appointment as Company Secretary at Mellon was a huge milestone for me, not least as I had the privilege of working with Helena Morrissey who was CEO of Newton Investments at that point in time. I am also very proud of what I achieved during my time at Mills & Reeve, establishing their first national Company Secretarial service line and building the team alongside winning clients, all whilst working part-time as my children were young. Spending three years working for Conyers in Bermuda was another high point. The portability of the Governance qualification was always a huge draw for me. It was life-changing to have the opportunity to work overseas where I relished the technical challenges of learning new laws and regulations. More recently at CVS, I have really enjoyed developing and implementing a Zero Tolerance Policy to support front-line veterinary colleagues and boosting take-up of our Save as You Earn scheme by 33%. Probably my greatest achievement to date was being promoted to the position of General Counsel in addition to being appointed as Group Company Secretary at CVS. It was very humbling to be given such a strong vote of confidence by the Board of Directors and I’m very aware of being one of the few Governance Professionals who also holds the position of General Counsel.
- Looking ahead, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the governance profession?
It’s tricky to predict what the future holds. When the 2006 Companies Act removed the requirement for private companies to have a Company Secretary, there was concern that the profession was in a slow decline to irrelevance. Fast forward to 2023 and the requirement and demand for Governance Professionals and Company Secretaries to support the Board of Directors is stronger than ever. It’s great to see how the profession continues to evolve and I think that the institute has done a fantastic job of supporting and encouraging Governance Professionals to constantly seek opportunities to add value to their organisations. The rise of AI and data analytics is likely to present challenges for all of us, but I see numerous opportunities alongside the threats. It will be important to keep abreast of developments so we can continue to advise and guide our Boards through a myriad of technical issues. On the other hand, it’s great to see disruptors entering the governance technology market to shake things up and provide cost-effective solutions that can be just as accessible to smaller and not-for-profit organisations as large listed corporates. The enduring challenge for all governance professionals is always the breath of our role, but in my view, this is our strength and where we can add value. We can’t know everything, but I have a growth mindset and believe that we will continue to thrive as a profession as we provide a broad range of practical hands-on technical expertise coupled with a uniquely independent viewpoint.
- What does winning in this category mean to you?
It’s a real honor to be recognised as a technical expert and winning this category has given me the opportunity to reflect on both my achievements and all of the people I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years. I have a huge amount of respect for all of the Governance Professionals that I’ve met over the past twenty years. There have been numerous occasions when they’ve stepped in to support my career, from the first Company Secretary I worked with in London to the ex-colleagues who have given me advice, and technical guidance or supported my career development. I’d also like to thank DMJ for championing the Governance Hot 100 initiative every year, it’s a fantastic way of providing recognition for hard-working Governance Professionals, especially those who are starting out in their career.