Opinion: A Darwinian approach to the future of accountancy is needed


As he takes over the helm at accountancy and business advisory firm BDO, new managing partner Paul Eagland reflects with Accountancy Age on which historical figure he would like to seek advice from 


IF YOU COULD CHOOSE a figure from history to appoint as your business mentor, who would you choose?

I’ve been thinking about this as I prepare for my new role as BDO’s managing partner.  Initially I was tempted by Winston Churchill (who died in the year I was born…) but in the end Charles Darwin was the obvious choice.

I’ve always been drawn to Darwin’s famous quote which laid the foundation for his theory of evolution: ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’.

My first question would be to ask Darwin to apply this thinking to the business world in general – and the accountancy profession in particular.

Darwin talks about responsiveness to change. When I look back just five years, the pace of change has been incredible.

Rapid developments in technology and regulation, the growth of populist politics and an uncertain relationship with the EU mean that many of the boundaries that once governed the way organisations do business are changing or disappearing altogether.

At the same time public trust in business is low. Global high-profile scandals have left many people feeling alienated from – and frustrated with – business and other institutions. Globalisation has seen many winners, but many losers too. If, as some have said, the vote for Brexit was the first rebellion of a developed country against globalisation then I doubt it will be the last.

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So, given this backdrop of accelerating change, I would ask Darwin’s advice about the skills I should foster among our 3,500 people to ensure that BDO adapts and thrives.

He might point to the importance of high IQ to solve our clients’ most difficult technical problems and refer me to the work of William Stern in 1912: a German psychologist and inventor of the concept of IQ. He might recommend that we should apply logic to all our challenges and opportunities.

Maybe, though, Darwin would advise me to focus on referring me to the work of Daniel Goleman on emotional intelligence (EQ), and suggest that people with high EQ are best placed to guide clients through today’s uncertain world.

Or would Darwin surprise me by emphasising the importance of fostering our Digital Quotient (DQ), while warning me that clients are discerning and expect digital solutions to be applied judiciously?

My guess is that, after several captivating meetings, Darwin would conclude that in today’s dynamic world, professional services firms need to foster a careful balance of digital, intelligence and emotional skills (DIE Q) to adapt and thrive.

This is quite a challenge for any organisation. But knowing the team at BDO, as I do, I’m confident that our mix of people, generations and skills will ensure that we adapt and thrive.  So I will take guidance from Darwin and focus on fostering the balance of DIE Q that our clients and the market tell us they want from their advisers in order to help them succeed in their own changing worlds.

Paul Eagland is managing partner of BDO

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