Why did you decide to do the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance?

During the course of our work in the ODCE, we interact on a daily basis with companies of all shapes and sizes – up to and including companies that have public listings, that operate in highly regulated sectors and that operate in multiple jurisdictions. When interacting with those sorts of entities, their boards and their professional advisors it’s important, from our perspective, to be conversant with the most up-to-date developments and thinking in governance. That was my primary motivation for enrolling on the programme. Back when I completed the programme in 2019, we were a class of 30 or so, from a very diverse range of backgrounds, which in and of itself, and quite aside from the excellent course content, made for an enriched learning experience.  In addition, successful completion of the programme results in conferral of a Level 9 (Masters) level qualification, which is, clearly, a substantial addition to anyone’s educational credentials.

Tell us a bit about your career path

I trained as an accountant and initially worked in private practice (audit) before moving to the Office of the Comptroller & Auditor General where I was involved in the statutory audit of both Government Departments and State Agencies. Subsequently, and prior to taking up my current role, I held positions in the Department of Finance (as an auditor of EU structural funds) and as Chief Executive Officer of the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA), whose statutory functions include supervision of both the audit profession and listed entities’ statutory financial reporting.

Are you on any boards?

Yes. I am currently a Non-Executive Director (NED) of the Medical Council, which is the statutory regulator of medical doctors in Ireland. I Chair the Medical Council’s Audit & Risk Committee and also serve as a member of its Fitness to Practice Committee, which is statutory Committee that forms part of the disciplinary architecture governing doctors.

What impact has the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance had on your work?

While, in the normal course of our work in the ODCE, we have ongoing interaction with companies and their directors around issues such as directors’ duties, possible civil and criminal breaches of company law etc., the programme provided me with further insight into the more psychological and behavioural aspects of Board dynamics. I found those aspects of the programme to be particularly interesting and beneficial.

What are the biggest challenges for boards at the moment?

Having previously been a CEO responsible for ensuring that a board complied with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies (the Code), and currently being a NED and Audit Committee Chair that is similarly subject to the Code, I appreciate the level of work and time commitment involved, on an ongoing basis, in complying with those obligations and the associated burdens that are placed on directors’ shoulders - those, of course, being aside from all the responsibilities that flow from employment, health & safety and data protection law, etc., etc.

In that context, one aspect of the programme that particularly stood out for me was the ongoing challenge that boards face in ensuring an appropriate division of their time between operational/compliance matters and strategy. Many boards undoubtedly feel that, as a consequence of the regulatory burden, they are spending less time on strategy that they would like. That said, material non-compliance can have very serious consequences for a company and its officers, for example in terms of the cost and reputational risks associated with being the subject of an investigation/enforcement action, and, as such, it is an integral part of the challenge that anyone joining a board is taking on.

A lot has happened in the relatively short period since I completed the programme in 2019 – we’ve experienced a global pandemic, ESG has moved up the agenda, we’ve seen the crippling effects of the cyberattack on the HSE and, as a consequence of the invasion of Ukraine, we face significant economic and geopolitical uncertainty. These issues are all adding to the unenviable challenges facing company boards.

Would you recommend the Diploma to others?

Absolutely. The programme is not only relevant to board members but also to those who aspire to be directors in the future. The programme content would, similarly, be valuable to anyone operating in and around Boards and who would benefit from understanding the drivers of Board dynamics.

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