His bone-crunching handshake says it all. It may be a kick back to his boxing days as a student, but it adds to the firm, sure and focused impression he conveys while talking about his plans for his year ahead as the head of the UK’s largest accountancy body.
The second youngest president in the institute’s history, Ward says his mission is to improve its image and internal workings – and the reputation of its members.
‘I aim to enhance and increase the image of the professional body. I want to ensure it is held in higher esteem at the end of the year and that it offers something attractive to firms and students,’ he says.
Ward began his inauguration speech last week in Welsh – an indication he intends to drive home the fact the institute is inclusive of all members wherever they live.
‘On my travels around the UK chatting to members, I realise they have difficulties fitting in time to get hold of information, go on courses or events hosted by the institute,’ he says.
The institute is developing its digital processes for members to communicate with the institute, each other and access up-to-date, reliable information. At home in his new office, a restful wood-panelled room at the institute’s Moorgate headquarters, Ward oozes confidence. It is the kind of effortless authority few individuals enjoy.
Chris Swinson, president two years ago, described him as possessing the incongruous characteristics of pugnacity and good humour. ‘He is a dreadnought weight,’ said Swinson. He comes across as a less fearsome character than his predecessor, Baroness Noakes, formerly Dame Sheila Masters, before her recent appointment to the House of Lords. Ever the diplomat, he is not drawn on questions over differences of style.
But there are signs of occasional sharp-temperedness. He confesses to irritation at ‘people who spend 15 minutes telling me they cannot carry out a task that would take five minutes’.
He developed his leadership skills at Oxford where he studied chemistry and led the boxing team. His commitment to Oxford has continued. In 1981 he established an award for Jesus College students who demonstrate outstanding leadership qualities. The skills he has learnt boxing have served him well. Ward says there isn’t great a difference between the qualities you need to box and those he applies to his life.
‘Boxing teaches you to focus and to take responsibility for your own actions. It also teaches you teamwork and team spirit. Above all it teaches you commitment,’ he enthuses.
His focus and motivation are impressive. When questioned on how he manages to fit everything into his already busy schedule, he says he has the ability to concentrate on one specific issue or task at a time, but switch easily and quickly to another. As for motivation, he says if he has a view about something then that is sufficient motivation to get involved.
This capacity to act on instinct, he says, originated from his time on secondment at the Accounting Standards Committee in 1978.
‘My time there got me interested in the big picture issues,’ Ward says. He adds he is not one to sit back on his haunches and let things meander along. If he has a view, he enters the playing field.
And his playing field is expansive. He takes the presidency as issues of ethics and openness in the profession have taken centre stage following a crackdown by regulators in the US. The government is raising the audit threshold, and the move towards international accounting standards is gathering pace. Ward has been involved in all these debates.
He intends to continue the institute’s ‘Everybody Counts’ programme, aimed at promoting the work of accountants in the community, initiated by his predecessor.
At the institute, the transformation of the general practitioners’ and business members boards into ‘focuses’ is well progressed and there are new ones under development for younger and international members. Controversial moves to revamp its district societies network are being consulted on.
Even the defection of some leading member firms to the Scottish institute for training its students does not seem to phase him. You could almost see him physically kick himself as he explained the institute approved a decision to opt for a more cost-effective training route only a day after Ernst & Young decided to train its students with the Scots. This alarming trend is something Ward hopes to turn around.
He has pledged to take a closer look at the relevance of the qualification and invest in getting it right, although he says the defections had no material effect on the institute’s finances. ‘We are preparing our own learning materials we hope will bring us closer to students,’ he projects. The institute and its president face a tough year ahead in a fast-changing business and regulatory environment.
Ward’s leadership qualities, vast experience and his maxim for the year ‘Leadership through Service’ will be put to the test.
New man at the top – Graham Ward
1974 – 1977 – Qualifies as a chartered accountant at Price Waterhouse
1978-79 – Seconded to the Accounting Standards Committee
1986 – Becomes partner at Price Waterhouse. Founds the Price Waterhouse Pensions Advisory Service
1990 – Founds Price Waterhouse Electricity services, Europe
1993 – Director of Business Development
1994 – Chairman of World Utilities Group
1996 – Member of the Price Waterhouse World Firm General Council
1998 – World utilities leader of the Global Energy & Mining Group
2000 – President of English ICA
Board member of the International Federation of Accountants
Vice chairman of the British Energy Association
Chairman of Chartered Accountants in the Community
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