Timesaver’s guide to the Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries’ annual conference

Aug 08, 2016
<p>A likely new name, thoughts on the changing role of corporate secretaries, and mountains and lakes to boot in Whistler on August 21-24</p>

The Canadian Society of Corporate Secretaries is holding its 18th annual corporate governance conference at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler in British Columbia on August 21-24. 

Whistler is perhaps best known as a winter ski resort, but it has lots to offer in outdoor activities all year round, including lakes to sail and swim, zip-line tours, horseback riding, hiking, biking and golf courses. The area also has a rich First Nations culture, which may find its way into the Society’s opening ceremony on August 21.

This will also likely be the last time you’ll hear the Society referred to by its current name. The proposed new name is Governance Professionals of Canada, which members who have not yet voted on the special resolution for a name change will have an opportunity to do at the annual and special meeting to be held on August 22 at the conference.

‘The driving force of this organization has always been governance and providing best practices resources and support for those who are performing in the governance function,’ says Lynn Beauregard, the Society’s president. ‘It’s becoming clear as we expand beyond the world of the publicly traded organization that corporate secretaries may have been the cornerstone of the organization, but other individuals are very much involved in governance and want to be part of this organization as well.’

This year’s opening keynote panel is a chairs discussion on the evolving role of the corporate secretary that Carol Hansell will moderate. Vancouver Airport Authority chair Mary Jordan, Telus chairman Dick Auchinleck and Margie Parikh, former chair of Mountain Equipment Co-op will talk about how they view the governance professional and corporate secretary and how the people in those roles can contribute to board and director effectiveness, as well as the chair’s role in the corporate secretary’s appointment, performance evaluation and succession planning.

The opening plenary session will be a master class in ethics, examining how organizations can strike a balance between rules and principles with some tips on how to navigate the grey areas of corporate ethics. Panelists will include Andrew Fastow, former chief financial officer of Enron, who will expand on some of the ideas he riveted attendees with at last year’s conference. Among the other panelists will be Dr. Richard Leblanc, associate professor of law, governance and ethics at York University, Mike Garvey, chairman of Kelvin Storage and Errol Mendes, law professor at University of Ottawa. At the 2015 conference, Fastow’s criminal background prevented him from being admitted to Canada, so he will likely be participating via live video feed from Houston as he did last year.

Canadian governance gurus David Beatty of The Rotman School of Management and Conway Director at the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness, and Peter Dey, chair of Paradigm Capital, will be returning for another of their fireside chats in a closing plenary on August 24. Joining them this time will be Anna Tudela, head of diversity and regulatory affairs and corporate secretary at Goldcorp. They will discuss board and director effectiveness and how the corporate secretary can work with the board and chair more successfully.

Tuesday’s luncheon keynote speaker will be explorer and travel writer Bruce Kirkby, explaining how to clean your cluttered brain in order to optimize professional performance. While he doesn’t have a governance background, Kirkby, who has written for Canadian Geographic, New York Times and Huffington Post, has some cogent life lessons to share that apply to either a very hectic job or professional environment or can just be motivational in a personal way, Beauregard says.

Chris Chen of Korn Ferry Hay Group will be back for a post-lunch plenary session on August 22, providing insights into the results of the 2016 Best Practices in Corporate Governance Study that Hay Group conducts each year with the Society, touching on executive pay, reducing risk in succession planning and assessments. 

The breakout sessions include discussions focused on the corporate secretary’s role in establishing effective governance practices, the board’s role in special situations (including spinoffs and privatizations), the corporate secretary’s role in CSR and sustainability governance, achieving diversity and inclusion in the boardroom through recruitment, policies, processes and measures, and a case study on hostile takeover and M&A deals.

In a break with the past, the Society is spinning off its annual Excellence in Governance Awards as a separate event that will be held on November 15 at the Carlu in Toronto. The summer conference has served as a launching pad for the awards, starting in 2013, but ‘we feel we’ve gotten enough momentum now’ to highlight the awards as a separate event, Beauregard says. ‘We’ve always thought this would be an opportunity to create an event in Toronto, where we don’t usually hold the conference.’

For the traditional casual dinner on August 23, attendees will have a chance to don their favorite 1980s garb and take to the dance floor, rocking out to R.E.M, The Police, Dire Straits and many more old favorites.

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