SIR DAVID TWEEDIE
In a profession that prides itself on self-effacement and prudence, Sir David Tweedie stands out not just for his achievements as chairman of the Accounting Standards Board, but for the intriguing contrasts of his character.
Urbane and charming, Sir David nonetheless confesses to liking ‘a good scrap’. When E&Y printed a critical report on the ASB’s statement of principles, the chairman responded that it displayed ‘all the vision of the mole and the eloquence of a whoopee cushion’.
The mischievous sense of humour camoflages a first-class intellect and the serious intent of Sir David’s nine-year crusade against financial reporting abuses.
When the then KPMG national technical partner headed for the ASB in 1990, the profession’s reputation was in tatters thanks to lax reporting practices exposed by scandals like BCCI, Maxwell and Polly Peck.
Sir David has also successfully taken on chancellor Gordon Brown over accounting for private finance initiative assets – not to mention US dominance on the International Accounting Standards Committee. Styling himself as ‘leader of the opposition’, Sir David has seen many of his reforming ideas enshrined in international standards.
PAUL VAN BUITENEN
The story of Paul van Buitenen, the Dutch internal auditor for the European Commission, has all the trappings of a Hollywood blockbuster. One man’s bid to rid the establishment of fraud has left many high-profile careers in tatters and a Commission struggling to regain its credibility.
Since last Christmas, when he was suspended following his revelations of fraud at the Commission, he has become synonymous with the downfall of President Jacques Santer and changes in UK law to protect those who speak out against corruption.
But van Buitenen’s personal experience under the spotlight has been difficult.
Hounded by officials for by-passing the rules in order to distribute confidential documents to the European Parliament, he has been condemned as disloyal.
The independent Committee of Experts, established to examine his allegations could have proved his undoing, but its findings detailed huge sums unaccounted for and highlighted the serious lack of financial checks. Van Buitenen has meanwhile been completing a second report for the committee that will help them conduct a follow-up probe into senior officials at the EC.
Baker Tilly partner Teresa Graham has been one of the profession’s major irritants over the last 12 months. That’s not a criticism: from the heart of government she has been one of its sternest – and most constructive – critics.
The vice-chairmanship of the Better Regulation Taskforce has given her platform to pursue what she describes as her passion for small business.
Having served on the task force under both the Tories and Labour, she is no ideologue. Many within the profession baulked at government plans to raise the audit threshold to £4.2m, inviting accusations of self-interest.
But Graham was among the few accountants to support the government and criticise her fellow professionals. ‘I find it laughable that the profession can make a living from a statutory requirement,’ she said in a typically forthright manner in August. She is notorious for being just as robust when dealing with civil servants and politicians as dealing with fellow accountants.
Putting her head above the parapet does not faze Graham and she also shows a willingness to lead from the front. Last year she was appointed an OBE for her services to small business.
According to the Sunday Times Rich List, Brian Souter ranks as Britain’s wealthiest accountant. He shares a fortune of £850m with his sister Ann Gloag, with whom he runs Stagecoach.
It is not the personal fortune of this Arthur-Andersen trained accountant that makes him stand out, however. Souter is a maverick business operator, who has risen from a modest background to group chief executive of a £2bn company, taking advantage of a deregulating transport sector to do it. No stranger to life on the buses, he paid his way through university and his traineeship by working as a bus conductor in Glasgow.
Souter and Gloag started Stagecoach in 1980 with two second-hand buses bought with their father’s redundancy money. Turnover grew to £3.5m by 1985 and from that point expansion was rapid. Acquiring national bus companies and taking advantage of rail privatisation, turnover reached £1.15bn by 1997.
But the man who built up Stagecoach through aggressive acquisition failed his Maths O-level and had to talk his way onto Strathclyde University’s accountancy course. ‘I cannot do maths. I’ve a mental block about it,’ he has revealed.
It doesn’t seem to have got in his way. He and Gloag may have sold the original coach business, but they now have operations in Sweden, New Zealand, Portugal and Malawi in an empire of bus, train and aviation interests.
Although he is known as a hard employer, Souter’s sympathies lie with the left and his company recognises and encourages trade unions.
Former English ICA president Chris Swinson is, in anybody’s eyes, one of the professions major personalities and an outstanding candidate for the Accountancy Age Personality of the Year.
While harbouring a love of naval history – he is chairman of trustees at Greenwich Royal Naval College – Swinson has steered a safe passage for the profession through the stormy waters of self-regulation. He has played an integral role in producing the profession’s new framework for regulation.
As the chairman of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies, Swinson recognised the need for a unified response to Labour’s newfound interest in overhauling the profession. Using his considerable influence, he cajoled allies into line behind the regulatory structure he devised.
He is also chairman of the implementation working party currently laying the foundations for self-regulation, following successful negotiations with government.
Even critics acknowledge the scale of his achievements. While the government began to wane over the reforms, it eventually embraced the Swinson plan with only minor changes.
According to a rival accountant, Swinson’s secret weapons are his persistence and his brain: ‘He can see all the angles and construct a case that is impossible to put holes in.’
Swinson is a man not known to duck a fight and he displays a dogged determination. A versatile public speaker, he is noted for his use of humour when delivering his material. He is also seen by some rivals as a belligerent foe who is in constant pursuit of his goals.
DAME SHEILA MASTERS
Ask anyone you bump into to name the country’s most high profile accountant and you will get only one answer – Dame Sheila Masters.
Admired and feared, Dame Sheila – who became president of the English ICA in June – inspires strong reactions.
In addition to her duties as institute president, she is also a non-executive director of the Bank of England and a governor of the London Business School.
In between all this, she is a leading public sector partner at KPMG and is involved in a range of high profile projects.
Most recently she was appointed as one of the Treasury’s ‘magnificent seven’ – a private-sector group set up to stamp out wastage in the public sector.
From 1988, she spent three years on secondment to the National Health Service, when she overhauled the NHS financial system.
She is now attempting to bring some of her reforming zeal to the English ICA, leading a series of initiatives aimed at making it a slicker and more modern organisation. Some wits have remarked this could prove a tougher nut to crack than the NHS.
Forthright and to-the-point, Dame Sheila has a formidable intellect and a personality to match.
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