Anstee: three years at the top

eric anstee

When Eric Anstee was appointed as the first chief executive of the ICAEW in
June 2003 he could not have foreseen the infighting, argument, bitterness and
controversy he would provoke over the next three years.

A former FD of FTSE100 insurer Old Mutual and a serial non-executive, Anstee
was hailed as the experienced businessman who would galvanise the 123-year
institute, and build it up into an organisation that remained relevant and
influential in the evolving business world.

‘I feel quite strongly about the role,’ said Anstee at the time. ‘I’ve got a
number of things on the agenda that I think the institute should be involved in.
After 30 years of being pleased and proud to work in accountancy, the chief
executive role gives me a good opportunity to put something back into both the
institute and the profession.’

He immediately put pensions accounting, liability reform, corporate
governance and red tape on his agenda, and remained vocal and focused on these
issues throughout his period at the helm.

Yet for all his business experience and influence, he was always a
controversial figure, and it will unfortunately be the failed merger with CIPFA
in October last year and a breakdown in the relationships with the other
institutes that his reign will be remembered for.

Determined, stoic and defiant, Anstee was a man who wanted to get things done
and never backed down from an argument or challenge. It was a trait that drove
his success but at the same time alienated him from the heads of other
institutes and factions within the ICAEW itself.

The first signs of resistance to Anstee’s leadership surfaced in April 2004
when he pushed a controversial practice assurance programme for all member firms
through Council.

The institute faced a deluge of criticism that practice assurance increased
the bureaucratic burden for small firms, but Anstee was undeterred.

‘To those who accuse us of being behind the game, I would say that it is
better to take the time to get it right than to rush through a model that simply
will not provide the right level of support,’ he said.

This would start off a period of fractiousness that would follow Anstee until
his resignation this week.

Much of this centred around last year’s failed merger attempt with CIPFA.
Anstee fell a mere 540 votes of pushing through the merger, but the dust is
still settling on the attempt which threatened to tear relationships between
rival institutes apart.

In the lead up to the merger, ICAS chief executive Des Hudson said the merger
was based on ‘unproven beliefs’ and criticised Anstee’s plans to rename the
merged institute The Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Anstee said of ICAS’s conduct: ‘I think it was done in a way that was
unpleasant to the profession.’

Yet despite the loss, Anstee refused to yield. By February this year he had
implemented a radical new board structure, believed to mirror the structure of
the board had the CIPFA merger succeeded, and maintained the October vote had
provided a ‘mandate for change’.

‘It’s been clear to me we don’t want loads of boards… we’re sweeping it away
and putting [the new boards] in place. The boards clearly have a voice upwards,
but must get the voice of constituents in,’ he said.

There have also been issues around the ICAEW’s aggressive recruitment policy,
where it targeted the members of and invoked the ire of CIMA head Charles Tilley
who called in the Professional Oversight Board.

Anstee has also driven the institute’s international drive into China and
pushed the ICAEW into a global partnership with institutes around the world.

The controversial exit of incoming president Graham Durgan flowed from this
drive, after Durgan’s company won key contracts in China.

Eric Anstee has made great strides to move the ICAEW forward and modernise
its character, on a journey that has been anything but quiet and smooth.

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