Company secretaries play an essential role within an organisation. According to the Hong Kong Company Ordinance, any business organisation is required to have at least one company secretary, whether it is a public or privately owned firm. The Hong Kong Institute of Company Secretaries (HKICS) is an independent professional body with 4,200 full members and 2,700 student members. After obtaining a degree or diploma, students must attend all qualifying examinations to become full members. The profession was in great demand during the 1960s and 1970s, when most company secretaries acquired their knowledge and recognition through self-studies. However, owing to computerised technology that has helped corporations streamline their operations and save on labour costs, the growth of the profession has not been as obvious in recent decades. Within a corporate hierarchy, the company secretary reports directly to the board of directors and the chairman. 'They are high up in an organisation. As a senior member [of the company], they have to provide sound and timely advice to [chief executives] and board members on key issues such as corporate governance and compliance to the authorities like Listing Rules and Companies Ordinance. Their ultimate objective is to protect the interests of the company, its shareholders and employees,' says HKICS president Samantha Suen Pui-yee. Like other work functions, company secretarial duties can either be borne by an in-house specialist team or outsourced to a professional services firm. Young professionals can join a professional services firm (usually linked with a chartered professional accountant company) or a sizable industry corporation. 'The publicly traded corporations hire a team of specialists for their business operations. Their company secretary teams range from one to 15 or 20 people, depending on the size of the organisation.' Good company secretaries must have high-quality communication skills to be able to deal effectively with top management. In addition, they are expected to conduct their work with integrity, honesty and reliability. 'In these changing times, we have to be proactive and sensitive to what is happening around us. We need to respond swiftly to changes. Plus, we have to maintain our independent role within an organisation. 'We do not work for or serve the particular interests of any directors or senior executives,' says Ms Suen. A broad and thorough knowledge of the company's business and applicable regulations is also imperative. As managing director of K Corporate Services (a former KPMG company which specialises in company secretarial services), Ms Suen enjoys her career for its interesting and challenging nature. 'As a professional service provider, we have quite a diverse client portfolio from various industries. It is still interesting to learn that there is not a fixed rule to apply or to serve each of our different clients' needs.' Apart from complying with the rules and regulations of an organisation, the company secretary also plays a pivotal role in corporate restructuring exercises. 'We have worked on a global merger case - marrying two firms from the United States and Europe. The two firms have a combination of hundreds of subsidiaries around the world. When companies decide to streamline global operations that include shutting certain subsidiaries within Asia, we act as the merger's main co-ordinator. In the nine Asian countries, we have to ensure the corporation complies with all local rules and regulations,' Ms Suen says. By providing knowledge about different countries' laws and practices, the firm is able to relieve a company's global headquarters of a huge workload. 'We are there to take care of all the necessary procedures, from forming a new organisation to winding up an old company,' Ms Suen says.