During his time as a Maths and PE teacher at a north London comprehensive, Paul Druckman developed a novel technique to reach out to the parents of disruptive children.
Frustrated during parent-teacher evenings by the absence of those he most needed to see, the now president of the ICAEW adopted what could only be regarded as a rather unorthodox approach. ‘I used to go round to their houses, knock on the door and say: “Do you understand what your child is up to?”‘ he says.
The anecdote speaks volumes, not only about the diverse background of the institute’s head honcho, but also of his drive and determination. And it gave Druckman a lesson he wants the accountancy profession to mull. ‘I was shocked when I was teaching at the lack of respect there was. It means you don’t get high-quality people. That is something we cannot allow to happen to the profession.’
Born in Zimbabwe, Druckman spent the first eight years of his life in Africa before his parents moved to south London. After school in Wimbledon, he went on to qualify as an accountant in 1979. A spell of ‘drifting’ ended with his tenure as a qualified teacher at Finchley Manor Hill School.
From there Druckman reinvented himself as an IT entrepreneur. His passion for new technology brought him into contact with the institute, when in 1989 it chose its first ‘recommended product’ from the software house where he was sales director.
‘I became more aware of what the institute could do and so got involved through the IT faculty,’ he remembers.
But Druckman was not done with business yet, founding his own technology company in 1991, providing software to businesses dealing with accounting and ecommerce systems. He sold the company to an international IT group in 2000.
Druckman’s twin interests in IT and SMEs have led him to become chairman of both the institute’s IT faculty and its SME forum. It was a route that ultimately led to the door of the president’s office. ‘It was never my ambition to be president; I didn’t actually think about it until I was asked,’ he says.
Druckman was given until the next day to make up his mind. But before saying ‘yes’, he wrestled with fears over his lack of experience of life ‘in practice’. ‘I had doubts, simply because I was concerned that I had no background in the profession,’ he remembers.
Two months down the line, he regards his ‘unusual’ road to the presidency as a strength. ‘I’m not trying in any way to denigrate those who are steeped in the profession, but it’s about 10 years since we’ve had a president who comes from what we call “in business”. I think I do come at it reasonably fresh because I’m from an industrial background and I think that has been a benefit,’ he says.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Druckman is keen to stress a greater focus on business from the institute in the year ahead – and with good reason. ‘Sixty percent of our membership are people like myself who are not in practice and I feel one of my goals is to give those business members a higher profile,’ he says.
His personal objective is a campaign to ‘put the M into SME’ – focusing on those companies that tend to be overlooked because they are too small to generate their own publicity, but too large to benefit from target-driven government initiatives. It’s Druckman’s aim to push them up the government’s agenda.
‘Institute members would be very high profile in those companies, probably the FD, and I think we need to shout from the rooftops about that,’ he says.
Druckman is already popular at Moorgate Place, where he has been described as ‘a breath of fresh air’. And while Druckman may be no spring chicken, he has a youthful air. Now in full remission after a life-threatening battle with cancer, his boyish enthusiasm about technology is undimmed. He confesses to being an IT ‘nut’ and staunchly defends the profession against its ‘luddite’ reputation.
‘It’s just false. You go out there and you speak to accountants who are IT savvy and they are red hot,’ he says. To signal this, the institute will release a report in the autumn on digital reporting and work towards promoting IT with the ACA qualification. Druckman also plans to devote much of his time to giving the institute’s IT faculty a higher profile.
Corporate social responsibility may be little more than a buzzword to some, but Druckman is very serious about the issue. Indeed, he is something of an environmentalist. His recently acquired professional qualification in sustainable development only serves to add clout to his convictions.
‘It has not been a strength of the institute, so it’s something I’m trying to raise awareness of both internally and externally,’ he says.
‘Sustainable development is all about not stealing from our grandchildren – or, for financial people, living off the interest rather than the capital of the environment. The fact is that it’s becoming higher on the political agenda. The new operating and financial review means you’ve got to look at your environmental and social impact,’ he adds.
But Druckman’s feedback to the recently concluded consultation on the OFR is likely to have been informed as much by his business instincts as his green credentials. ‘We need something that is measurable, but not burdensome, because unless we are very careful we will end up with figures for figures sake,’ he says.
The new president is quick to debunk any suggestion that he himself might be a figurehead for the sake of a figurehead, despite being the first president to step into office alongside a chief executive – Eric Anstee. But he concedes the role has changed. ‘We have appointed a chief executive and we did that on purpose. I see the role of the president as a non-executive chairman with a magic ingredient.’
In striving to boost the institute’s profile, Druckman has said that his ideal scenario would be for the profession to recruit Harry Potter once he has finished at Hogwarts. Failing that, however, it will be up to Druckman to weave his own ‘magic’ to help make the institute’s voice heard on key issues.
For the year ahead, that means company law reform, the eighth council directive on statutory auditing in the EU, implementation of international accounting standards, audit and director liability reform.
There is also the small question of putting in place changes pushed through by his predecessor David Illingworth on practice assurance, continuing professional development and new institute qualifications.
Druckman characterises the controversy surrounding practice assurance as ‘a lot of noise’ believing it is necessary for the institute to keep up to speed, and he is clearly delighted by the membership’s recent endorsement of new qualifications in IAS and corporate finance, and a scheme of compulsory CPD.
‘The new qualifications are a huge advance for this institute. They are available worldwide, for members and non-members and are not connected with ACA. Those three things make them fairly radical in what this place does and it’s taking us forward,’ he says.
And he reveals they could be just the beginning. ‘They could be the forerunner of others. I think at this stage it’s better if I leave the powder dry on what.’
Druckman believes that all these changes will help accountants avoid the loss of respect suffered by teaching. But with the profession’s reputation still recovering from a seemingly endless stream of bad news, the institute’s new president knows that he might just need that ‘magic touch’ to restore its good name.
JOHN BRACE, ACCA PRESIDENT
John Brace assumed his presidential post in May, halfway through ACCA’s centenary year. But there’s nothing ‘half way’ about his appointment.
He may be only three months into the job, but already he’s made his ambitions for the fastest growing international accountancy body clear.
The managing partner of Thames Valley-based firm Harwood Hutton has some pressing issues to tackle, not least ensuring that ACCA’s continuing professional development scheme is up and running smoothly by January.
ACCA Realise has already received the backing of members across the world. And Brace for one is bullish that the scheme, together with ACCA’s programme of Quality Assurance, will boost public confidence in the use of Chartered Certified accounting firms.
He is equally confident that ACCA is able to give its rivals a run for their money, despite ongoing rumours about the possibility of a merger between ICAEW, CIPFA and CIMA.
ROLAND KAYE, CIMA PRESIDENT
Roland Kaye has a real challenge on his hands. As president of CIMA, he presides over one of the UK’s most successful accountancy institutes. It’s growing quickly and has a qualification that is highly regarded by business. However Professor Kaye, dean of the Open University Business School, may soon try to persuade his members that their interests are best served by throwing their lot in with the ICAEW and CIPFA. Though the case has clear merit, the task facing Kaye and his chief executive Charles Tilley is considerable.
Still, he has a CV that suggests that he may be the right man to square that particular circle. He heads Europe’s largest and leading distance learning Business School. A member of the CIMA council since 1996, Kaye has been a member of CIMA’s IT, Education & Training and Student Development Committees.
To see our profiles of ICAS and CIPFA presidents run earlier this year, see www.accountancyage.com/Features.