Tell us a bit about your career to date
I trained as an accountant and initially worked in practice before moving into the public sector where I have occupied roles in the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Department of Finance, the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA) and, since 2012, the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE), where I am director of corporate enforcement. The ODCE is the statutory body with responsibility for enforcement of company law in relation to both civil and criminal non-compliance.
Are you on any boards?
I am currently a statutory office holder and, as such, a Board structure is not applicable. In my previous position with IAASA, I was both the Chief Executive Officer and an Executive Director.
Why did you do the Diploma in Corporate Governance and what was your experience of the programme?
I decided to do the diploma because we have a fair degree of interaction with listed companies and other regulated entities. When going toe-to-toe with those sorts of companies, their boards and their professional advisors it’s important to be conversant with the most up-to-date developments. That was the motivation for doing the programme and it would be fair to say that it met my expectations.
The first thing that struck me was the composition of the class. We were 30 or so people from a very diverse range of backgrounds, which made it fairly obvious from the outset that this was going to be a learning experience in itself, because we would be benefiting from other people’s perspectives on an ongoing basis.
While I have a large degree of exposure to the legal aspects of company directors’ obligations, I have had less contact with some of the other areas covered by the diploma – particularly around the more psychological and behavioural aspects of boards. And I found that particularly interesting and very beneficial in giving a better understanding around the many multi-faceted and multi-dimensional layers to boards and how they operate and their power dynamics. That was probably the part that I found most interesting.
What impact has the Diploma in Corporate Governance had on your work?
First and foremost having a level 9 qualification from Smurfit is a significant addition to anyone’s CV. It carries a certain gravitas and credibility.
Leaving that aside, the programme has given me an enhanced level of understanding of various aspects that have helped me in my day-to-day job. In my role, there’s a lot of second guessing other people and their perspectives. From that respect, anything that gives a greater insight into the way people are thinking in a boardroom or what the board dynamics might be and the strategic approaches they may take vis-à-vis us is always useful to have. The more you know about your adversary the better.
What are the biggest challenges for boards at the moment?
Two things stood out for me from doing the programme. The first is the regulatory burden – it’s a bit of a cliché, but having been a board member myself I have a certain degree of sympathy for it. If you’re a board member you’ve ultimate responsibility for compliance and that’s very onerous.
The second aspect is the fact that because boards only meet every month or two and are bombarded with such a huge amount of information, there’s a tendency to spend too much time on operational issues and not enough on strategy. Invariably boards say they don’t have enough time to spend on strategy but that’s really what they should be focusing on. It is hard to do when you’re crisis fighting and trying to keep a business on track. But there are ways of dealing with that, including through committee structures.
Do you see yourself joining boards in the future?
I would envisage being a member of one if not more boards in due course. I have the practical experience and now the theoretical, academic and cultural perspectives. I’m observing behavioural dynamics much more closely than I would have done before by virtue of having a greater degree of awareness of how those things can have a concrete impact on how boards operate. That’s very interesting.
Would you recommend the Diploma in Corporate Governance?
Yes, I would.
Generally speaking, I think people who aren’t occupying pretty senior positions would probably struggle with it somewhat – my class was made up of some fairly significant heavy hitters. But it’s not relevant only to people who are on boards or who aspire to be. I think it would be valuable for anyone operating in and around boards who would benefit from understanding their dynamics.