From lawyer in law firm to senior governance professional
Promoted by Governance Institute of Australia
As a law graduate, Kate Griffiths never imagined that her career would take her to the governance team at BHP Billiton as well as her vastly different role chairing an NFP.
When Kate Griffiths, a Senior Associate at Blake Dawson (now Ashurst) was seconded to the company secretarial team at BHP Billiton in 2008, little did she realise that there would be no turning back. Today, Kate is not only BHP’s Head of Governance, Risk and Audit Committee and Disclosure, she is also chair of ShareGift Australia — the only service of its kind in Australia that makes it easy and cost effective for shareholders to support the community through the donation of shares to charity and to growing philanthropy in Australia.
It’s Kate’s governance skillset that has not only established her as a member of the governance team at one of Australia’s true global companies and also chair of a not-for-profit (NFP).
Already armed with an Honours degree in Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree when she took up her role at BHP, Kate’s senior colleagues encouraged her to complete Governance Institute’s Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance to gain broader governance skills and insights useful in her new role.
“Transitioning from a lawyer in private practice to a much broader role at BHP alerted me to governance practice,” says Kate. “Certainly, I was familiar with the legal aspects of the role but much less so with the other aspects. The Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance gave me a broad insight into the various areas of governance practice. An added benefit, for me is that it is the only course in Australia that leads to becoming an internationally recognised Chartered Secretary.
“While a career in governance might not be top of mind in today’s law graduates, there is definitely a recognition within organisations that governance is an important skillset. A governance professional takes a bird’s eye view of the organisation with the principles of good governance, and applies those principles in a meaningful way across the entire organisation. The application may change from organisation to organisation, however the principles remain the same.
“Importantly, the Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance also connected me to peers in other governance roles. Understanding their perspective adds important context, even if the application varies across organisations,” Kate added.
Also important for Kate, is that the skills she has acquired working as a governance professional in the top end of town and through completing the Graduate Diploma of Applied Corporate Governance, are as relevant to her role as chair of ShareGift Australia as they are to BHP.
“Practical skills and knowledge in governance are critical for anyone seeking to improve the performance, transparency and accountability of their organisation. NFPs are increasingly aware of how having a robust governance and risk management framework directly builds public trust and contributes to the credibility and success of the organisation. Good governance translates to real outcomes for NFPs. It promotes stronger donor confidence, which in turn improves fundraising, and benefits community organisations. And good risk management leads to more successful program execution,” Kate added.
“I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now,” says Kate. “It’s very interesting work, and I am privileged to work with a great team and leaders where the challenges and the rewards are global. And though vastly different, my role as chair of ShareGift is equally rewarding. It allows me to use my skills and knowledge to benefit many, and will continue to develop a culture of philanthropy in Australia. If you had asked me in 2007 when I was a relatively junior lawyer in private practice what I would be doing in 10 years’ time, I would never have envisioned where I am today.
“So what next? Who knows! What I do know though is that I now have a broad and transferable range of skills that will stand me in good stead; whether I’m working with a globally recognised corporate, a worthwhile NFP or both,” Kate concluded.