The IoD’s Chartered Director programme has been developed to give business leaders the skills to perform at the very highest level. As the qualification celebrates its 20th birthday this month, we look at how it has blazed a trail for effective governance in the UK and far beyond
In 1991 the UK was rocked by a series of corporate scandals. The Bank of Credit and Commerce International was found guilty of fraud, larceny and money-laundering; media tycoon Robert Maxwell raided pension funds and deceived investors; and textile company Polly Peck went from FTSE 100 to bankruptcy.
These cases damaged investor confidence in plcs so badly that it led the authorities to ask Sir Adrian Cadbury to form a committee to recommend best-practice solutions. Its findings were the precursor to what we now know as the UK Corporate Governance Code.
Gerard Hargreaves was the IoD’s head of director development during that period. He recalls: “There had been a lot of debate about corporate governance and the professionalism of directors.
“There was a general feeling that the position of company director needed to be recognised as a role in its own right and had to be given a special status. The IoD wanted to help directors think and act more professionally. Scandals had happened because of a lack of governance.”
With this in mind, the institute’s professional development department devised its Chartered Director programme. “It was, and still is to this day, all about supporting a leader to make the move from manager to director,” Hargreaves says, noting that the IoD first had to seek approval from HM Privy Council to give the qualification chartered status.
“That was a long process,” he recalls, but this made serving as a director “a profession in its own right – alongside that of accountants, surveyors and lawyers”.
After the programme was introduced in 1999, Geoffrey Vernon, an IoD South West member, became the country’s first qualified CDir. A crucial distinction between Chartered Director and academic courses that one might take at a business school is that its course leaders have vast experience of serving as board directors.
They are true practitioners and representatives of their profession. Indeed, Hargreaves himself has been a local councillor, executive coach, consultant and author, working with brands such as Coca-Cola, Harrods and Kurt Geiger – and he remains closely involved with professional development at the institute as a course leader.
Chartered Director today
While the core of the original syllabus has been maintained, today’s programme is the final stage of a process designed to give both serving and aspiring directors the tools they need to be effective in their roles, wherever they may be in the world.
Claire Wardell, the IoD’s head of content and assessment, explains: “There are three stages: the Certificate in Company Direction, the Diploma in Company Direction and Chartered Director. You need to complete the first two before you can become a Chartered Director.”
The most significant development in recent years came in 2016 when the qualification went digital. Before that, students had needed to sit a written final exam at the IoD’s London headquarters.
“Candidates can now take the exam on their computer and submit the answers into our system,” Wardell says. “We use remote invigilation and are ahead of the curve in that respect. A candidate can take an exam online wherever they want and we’ll have someone monitoring them via a webcam.”
This advance has made the qualification accessible to more leaders around the globe than ever. “We deliver the course in places such as Kazakhstan and Peru – and we hold exams in the Russian language,” she says.
“We’ll keep growing it and encouraging people to continue their learning, so we can help to establish and maintain the best standards of governance.”
The qualification celebrates its 20th anniversary in June. Hargreaves reflects on its achievements over two decades with satisfaction. “I’m proud that the IoD developed it and that businesses, along with charities and other third-sector organisations, adopted it.
“They have used the model of Chartered Director and the learning that goes with it to help support their organisations,” he says. “We have managed to get thousands of directors involved and qualified to the highest standards.”
What they said – qualified Chartered Directors reflect on the course…
“It increases your value overnight”
Sue Smith, chair, Graven Hill Village Development Company
“I see Chartered Director as the equivalent of a PhD”
Sharon Bolton, professor of management, work and organisation, Stirling Management School
“The Chartered Director qualification provides clear evidence of your commitment”
Gordon Wilson, independent consultant, Ravenscroft Stockbrokers
“It has given me the opportunity to gain confidence in challenging myself”
Lyne Black, engagement manager, Northern Ireland Policing Board
“It rounded off my skills and acted as a flag to say: ‘I stepped out to take this intensive course'”
Jane Williams, founder, People Innovation
‘The apex of my directorship training and professional validation was when I qualified as a Chartered Director’
Eugene Wong, managing director, Sirius Venture Capital