Awards 2005: outstanding contribution – Nick Land

Chairman of Ernst & Young since 1995, Nick Land has had an extraordinary
stint at the helm of one of the UK’s largest firms.

Land steps down in June of next year, after an 11-year tenure that has seen
him lead debate, provoke discussion, and make a few friends and enemies along
the way.

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Land qualified as an accountant in 1970 and joined an E&Y predecessor
firm shortly afterwards, becoming a partner in 1978, aged 29. For many years he
was responsible for a number of major FTSE100 clients, including BTR and Asda.

After being appointed head of human resources and head of London audit, Land
was appointed managing partner of Ernst & Whinney, where he formed a key
part of the team merging E&W and Arthur Young in 1987. After a spell as UK
managing partner Land was appointed chairman in 1995.

His 11 years at the helm of E&Y, during a turbulent and rapidly changing
environment for the accountancy profession, have seen Land lead the firm through
revenue growth of over 140% in the period.

Among the highlights was Land leading the debate in the late 1990s on limited
liability status for firms.

Though many predicted that firms would rush to LLP status to limit their
liability to mega-claims, few seemed over-eager. It was Land, and E&Y, who
were first in declaring their hand, a move that the rest of the Big Four have
subsequently followed.

Land ­ who follows IASB chairman, Sir David Tweedie ­ the winner of our first
Outstanding Achievement Award last year, was instrumental in lobbying government
to make the move possible, and getting it on to New Labour’s agenda in its first

Land’s approach to E&Y’s staff is also hailed by insiders: ‘Nick is
widely admired as an outstanding motivator of people. He had a ground breaking
appreciation and understanding of the “people” agenda long before it was
fashionable or widely recognised as important, to describe them as “our greatest
assets”. He is committed to effective communications and the involvement of
everyone in strategic decision making,’ says one staffer.

On the issue of transparency for accountancy firms, Land was a pioneer. KPMG
and E&Y published annual reports for many years, when it was not a legal
obligation, before other top firms felt the need.

That was surely a worthy notion. Accountants advise others on the necessity
of disclosure. To keep their own affairs quiet smacked of hypocrisy. Writing
about the move in 2002, Land said: ‘We view our annual report and accounts as an
important business tool; a showcase for our firm’s achievements and challenges
over the previous 12 months. Although we do not have outside investors to
communicate with ­ like all large organisations we do have important

‘Aside from the fact that potential clients want to know that they will be
dealing with a firm that believes in one of its core services, namely, financial
reporting, our annual report offers an ideal opportunity to tell our clients and
our people more about the firm.’

He added, somewhat cheekily: ‘Finally, producing an annual report and
accounts gives valuable employment to journalists. They seem to take inordinate
pleasure in finding out what I and my fellow partners earn and write reams of
copy about it.’

For the record, Land earnt £1.53m in 2004/05, a 16% increase on the previous
year. There will be few in the profession who begrudge him his salary, or the
award he is winning. Even those gunning for E&Y speak warmly of Land ­ he is
a popular figure.

He has supported the arts heavily in his time at E&Y, having sponsored
highly successful exhibitions at the Tate. These are obviously occasions for E
&Y to entertain its clients, but they are no less worthy of credit for that.

Will Land take up a role somewhere in the arts world when he retires? Those
in the know suggest this may be his plan.

Land will leave E&Y next year with the firm well-placed. Still the baby
of the Big Four (a pretty big baby, even so), it boasted strong 15% growth this
year, and will surely hit the billion-pound mark in terms of its revenues when
it reports next time around.

Having sold off the firm’s consultancy function to Capgemini five years ago,
E&Y now has the opportunity to build a new division (which it terms
‘advisory’) with the end of its non-compete agreement.

Tax is still growing despite the government’s crackdown on avoidance, and
audit, especially one-off advice relating to governance and IFRS, is booming.

Whether that will continue is anyone’s guess, but with politicians taking a
keen interest, who would put money on the tide of regulation actually receding?

Whoever takes over, and there is a debate going on as we speak about the
future chairman of the firm, will be at the helm of an organisation in excellent
Land’s last significant act at E&Y perhaps, and one the profession will be
toasting him for most of all this year, is his victory in the biggest auditor
liability action of the year ­ indeed perhaps the most significant for many

He struck a crucial blow for the profession in E&Y’s impressive rebuttal
of Equitable Life’s claims against it.

Not only did E&Y win, but it won with a litany of colourful, and at times
scornful, critiques of Equitable’s argument: ‘This is a case where the claim
brought suffers from so many defects that it is hard to know which of them
deserves pride of place,’ E&Y’s defence began; and so it proved.

Though the Equitable battle is far from over, with a disciplinary hearing
scheduled for early next year, E&Y showed in court that just because a
company faces financial difficulties, it does not mean to say that it is the
auditors’ fault.

The multibillion-pound claim would almost certainly have been the end of the
road for E&Y in the UK. Instead, it is Land who is taking his victory lap.

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