Better than a sporting chance

Proof – if any more proof were needed – that the accountancy qualification is a firm basis for a successful business career comes in a new book called The Adventure Capitalists.

Interviews with leading UK business figures show that the four entrepreneurs featured here all began their careers as accountants. What follows is a snapshot of their early influences and experiences.

Barry Hearn is regarded as Britain’s leading sports promoter, the current or past mentor of luminaries such as Steve Davis and Chris Eubank, Herbie Hide, Francis Ampofo, Steve Collins, Garry Delaney and Eamonn Loughran.

An ambitious chartered accountant from a working class background, he collided happily with snooker as financial director of Kensal Investments.

This was principally a fashion house, but he persuaded Kensal to buy the Lucania snooker chain as an investment. TV was discovering snooker at the same time, and Hearn helped turn it into a major TV sport.

Hearn is currently head of the Matchroom organisation, which first went into boxing in 1987. He plunged in at the deep end by staging the fight between Joe Bugner and Frank Bruno at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane stadium, in front of a 30,000-strong crowd.

Hearn’s informal business style belies a highly focused commercial instinct, an essential quality in the aggressive world of sports management. But his outstanding quality is his ability to spot young talent. His best break was when Steve Davis walked in to play one of the amateur tournaments which he promoted.

Rick Parry is a chartered accountant who became chief executive of the club he had supported from childhood – Liverpool FC. He was for six years chief executive of the Premier League, negotiating a series of record-breaking media and sponsorship deals.

He oversaw the competition which brought major investments in new stadia, drove up attendance figures and brought innumerable international stars to this country. Parry also oversaw the audit into the ‘bung’ scandal and transfer irregularities.

Parry, who comes from Ellesmere Port and went to Liverpool University, once had trials with Liverpool and Everton as goalkeeper. He failed to make the team but is fulfilling the dreams of many fans by running the club he supports.

Liked and respected inside the game, Parry is known for determination and patience. He has become a brilliant conciliator and deal-maker, gleaning experience from helping to prepare Manchester’s bid for the 1996 Olympic Games.

Jack Rowell is one of the most successful rugby union managers of his generation. An Oxbridge-educated Geordie who began his career managing Gosforth, he moved to the South West through his equally successful career in business, and took over as manager of Bath RUFC.

Bath’s rise to triumph – eight cup victories between 1976 and 1992 and five League titles in seven years – is never likely to be surpassed.

Rowell’s recognition came in the form of the offer to coach and manage England, a post he held from 1994 to 1997. In those three years, England achieved two Five Nations championships and a successive Triple Crown, while progressing to the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup in 1996.

But Rowell is more remarkable for the fact that while meeting these challenges, he was also rising to the top with Dalgety Foods. He became one of its chief executives, and conducted a high-achieving business career, at the same time as he managed first Bath, then England. Rowell remains one of the most enigmatic figures in modern sport, and is renowned for his extraordinary ability to motivate.

Lord Sheppard of Didgemere was born Allen Sheppard in East London. An outstanding business career began with a degree in business administration from the London School of Economics, progressed through accountancy qualifications and culminated, after nearly 20 years in the motor industry, with more than 20 years with Grand Metropolitan. Between 1986 and 1996 as the group’s chairman and chief executive, he was constantly in the news while refocusing GrandMet from a ‘blurred portfolio’ of 28 businesses to a world-leading food and drink business.

Knighted in 1990 and again in 1997 (KCVO) and given a seat in the House of Lords in 1994, Lord Sheppard has been one of the pre-eminent post-war business leaders. Acclaimed as a marketing and management genius, he is also know for a management style which he describes as a ‘loose grip around the throat’.

On the other hand, he has a reputation for warmth and humour and a disinclination to acquire airs, despite being honoured with a string of professional accolades.

In the beginning …

Barry Hearn, whose mother was cleaning houses for the better-offs of Buckhurst Hill when he was a child, was aiming for a qualification in accountancy from the day he passed his 11-plus examination. ‘My mother told me to aim for accountancy when I was 11 – she was cleaning houses for a chap who owned a lot of local newspapers and he said to her in passing, “Tell your son to be a chartered accountant; I’ve never seen a poor one.” And it stuck. I was telling my careers master at grammar school that I was going to be a chartered accountant before I had any idea of what a chartered accountant did.’

Hearn qualified with Bristow Burrell, then went to Thomson McLintock.

During his time with the firm he worked nights in his own private practice. His method of recruiting new clients for his unofficial practice was to solicit those who thought that Thomson McLintock’s fees were too high. ‘I had about 80 clients and this wonderful feeling you have when you’re first married and the world is your oyster.

I think I earned gross fees of about #5,000 a year, which was a lot of money in 1970, and certainly more than I was earning at Thomson McLintock.’

For Jack Rowell, the first taste of graft – long before the rugby coaching began – was his accountancy examinations. He knew from the age of 16 that he wanted a career in business, and his school adviser told him that chartered accountancy was the best possible base from which to pursue a business career.

To pave the way he studied economics at university, and went on to secure articles with a firm in Middlesbrough. The experience is etched on his memory: ‘Three years’ articles, average pay #6 a week, supply your own quill pen and ink. It was hard work.’ After qualification, Rowell left practice.

‘By the end, getting through the final exams set me free.

By then I was working in London, and the professional environment at the time didn’t suit my temperament. So I went into a famous company (Procter & Gamble) which gave me on-the-job training, and I enjoyed it straight away. Accountancy came to life. I got into what accountants really should do: add value.’

Lord Sheppard, who became known for his business management and marketing skills, followed the industry path. ‘My father was an engine driver and my mother a part-time bank clerk and none of us had been in management, so we didn’t actually know anything about it.’

Sheppard took a degree in economics and trade at the London School of Economics. National Service followed and, with his nose still to the grindstone, he used that time to take examinations in cost and management accounting and to gain a qualification as a chartered company secretary. He also lectured part time at Nottingham Technical College.

He hated what he saw as the excessive bureaucracy of the Army. On his release, he joined the Ford Motor Company as a junior financial analyst.

He was never an accountant in the pure sense – ‘I got no fun from balancing balance sheets’ – and from the beginning, enjoyed a more active role that hinted at his future. ‘As a junior financial analyst at Ford the job, in part, was to go out in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and to be able to outswear the Manchester group who were running manufacturing and to get them to improve what they were doing.’

The starting point of Rick Parry’s career had only one essential element.

‘I’ve never had a career plan other than having some vague aspiration to work in sport,’ he explains. ‘I guess I sort of stumbled into accountancy on the basis that I didn’t have the faintest idea what I really wanted to do when I left university.’ Parry enjoyed his accountancy training and still uses it on a daily basis, citing its basic disciplines as an asset.

It was his capacity for objective analysis that attracted the attention of Graham Kelly, then chief executive of the Football League.

Parry was sent to the League as a consultant by Ernst & Young, his employers in the late 1980s. His objective was to gain consensus among 20 football chairmen as they set up the Premier League.


Each of our subjects is motivated by the love of their chosen fields.

Money undoubtedly provides security, but, by and large, what drives them is success and achievement.

After his stint at Procter & Gamble, Rowell moved to Dalgety in Bristol and was eventually made general manager and then executive director of a division of the multimillion-pound food conglomerate.

Rowell and Bath RUFC were together for the next 18 years, a period of unprecedented success. Rowell’s motivation grew along with the success of Bath.

When he joined, he says, the extent of his game plan was merely ‘survival’, although according to the evidence this is not the case. His aims had clearly enlarged by the time the committee was pointing out to him that his ‘trouble’ was wanting to win every week.

By the age of 34, Allen Sheppard had been offered, and had turned down, the post of finance director of Ford Great Britain. As group chief executive of Grand Metropolitan, he explained to The Times: ‘It’s not the pursuit of money that drives me, nor is it the pursuit of security. It’s the thought of being your own boss.’

Barry Hearn’s father died at the age of 44, after being ill for 16 years. It left Hearn with the view that life is short, and not to be lived with caution. In 1982, he sold the Lucania snooker chain for #3m. In 1987, he could have counted his fortune, dissolved his empire and retired to a quiet life, but he wanted another challenge. He decided to go into boxing.

‘Now I want to be in boxing, but there’s nowhere to go, so I have to go and learn the business. And I’d say it cost me between two and three million to learn the business. But it was the price to pay. Just the same as doing articles.’

Rick Parry wasn’t concerned about being rich when he became an accountant.

He wanted to use his skills in sport, even if could not play professionally.

He went on to lead Manchester’s bid for the 1996 Olympics, but made his mark as author of the Premier League. Accountancy was his way to do what he liked; using his skills in the area he loved resulted in success and earnings above #200,000 a year.

Some people are so suited to what they do that for them the cost of success has been small. The exposure has suited their personalities. The stress has suited their temperament. The financial rewards have suited their material pleasures.

This article is based on extracts from The Adventure Capitalists. The authors are Jeff Grout, UK managing director of recruitment consultancy Robert Half International, and Lynne Curry, a freelance writer

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