David Venus is one of the best qualified Chartered Secretaries in the world.
As the International President of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, he tours the globe speaking at events for some of his 30,000 members spread across 100 countries.
He has advised ten FTSE companies, travels regularly to Africa and Asia, addressing some of the toughest challenges in governance. Yet, it all started nearly three decades ago in the back room of his Surrey home.
A Chartered Company Secretary isn’t one of those jobs students aim at when they start thinking about their career prospects. It certainly isn’t a role that rears its head above other glory posts in the world of work. Diplomat, foreign correspondent, architect – yes. Company Secretary – no.
David Venus understands this well. After all, he became a guardian of governance almost by chance. He did not stand out in any particular subject. He felt aimless at school and if it had not been for opting for a Business Studies course – more from a lack of direction than a direct ambition – he might never have started on a trajectory that has meant a life of challenge, reward – both financial and professional – and, above all, self-respect.
He is also acutely aware that the work of a Chartered Company Secretary can appear dry conjuring up visions of a Dickensian, wood-panelled office. But David is keen to point out that this is now very far from the truth.
For him it is not about balance sheets, minutes and consequential insurance – although he would be the first to agree those subjects are critical. It is a job which demands integrity. The supporting pillars of resilience and diligence are key, but the quality of strong, structurally sound honesty is the cornerstone of the job.
Not that he is in any way stuffy. He talks amusingly about his trip to the Ugandan Zoo where he enjoyed a close encounter with a Python. He clearly loves people, believes a sense of humour is essential but also that doing the right thing is good for business. In fact, he thinks it is the only way of succeeding in business.
“I have had a wonderful career, I would not have changed it for anything and I wholeheartedly recommend our profession to anyone wishing to span the worlds of accountancy, law and business.
“Younger students increasingly use the collaborative degree route to membership and we are working with universities to increase courses available. A lot of accountants and lawyers themselves recognise the added value of our qualification and take advantage of our fast track route to membership. People do discover the role by chance or later in their career, and we would like that to be earlier and by design, but the mature choice many members take does explain the enthusiasm and even passion we have for our profession.”
“I chanced upon the career and found that I was ideally suited to it. I didn’t go to university. I went to a good school but I wasn’t the greatest student. I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I took a Business Studies course and was taught by a lecturer in company and commercial law who was a Chartered Secretary. He told us about his career and what he did, and that caught my interest,”
David qualified at 22 and worked for Nestle and ITT but by 29 felt the urge to enter the world of entrepreneurial endeavor and set up his own consultancy, David Venus and Co.
“I headed the company for 35 years and grew it from mostly sub-contracting work to working with over 10 of the FTSE 100. I was also, unusually, company secretary for a number of pop groups, including Pink Floyd. Then, at the end of my career, I was company secretary of an £8.6 billion government fund set up to finance the decommissioning of the UK’s nuclear power stations. Having failed Physics O-level, I was visiting nuclear power stations and talking to nuclear scientists!”
Then in 2013 he was asked to join the ICSA and after completing a two-year-term was asked to step up as International President in 2016. He will hand over the reins this June.
A quality he regards as crucial is intuition. It can mean, he says, the difference between a company which fails and one which succeeds.
“These days – in many cases – it is hard to read a balance sheet. Eighty per cent of its value simply is not there. A company is valued by its hard assets and its reputation, so you have to be able to assess people and understand them. This applies to any business, big or small. Reputation is everything because once it is compromised trust is gone.”
Successful businessmen and women have to be prepared to go back to the floor when the time is right. Far too many start-ups are launched by people who don’t want to deal with the tough end of the job. They only want to do “the nice bits.”
The Chairman he most admired was Sir Raymond Johnson who always did some of the basic jobs himself. According to David, it is always easy to respect someone who thinks of the support they can give you, no matter how high up the food chain they may be.
“Traditionally, this role has attracted those with meticulous attention to detail, who don’t want the spotlight and who have a sense of humour. These days governance is central to strategy and high ethical standards are vital. It is a great and important career for any young person who values those standards.”
David’s Top Tips for business start-ups
- Incorporate your company into a Limited Liability business
- Get a great accountant
- Seek out a mentor
- Build and maintain self-belief
- Develop resilience, diligence and
- guard your integrity