With more than 220,000 candidates to choose from, the Accountancy Age Personality of the Year Award is the least predictable of the awards up for grabs in November.
As a group, accountants are among the most influential players shaping the economic and political landscape. But often they are unsung heroes – the backroom boffins who initiate major takeovers, carry out the essential due-diligence work and finalise the complex details that are overlooked in the headlines of daily newspaper reports.
In day-to-day business, the success of a finance department is measured by how unobtrusive it can be. Finance directors who make it on to the City pages would probably prefer not to, since analysts and journalists tend to dwell on bad news rather than good. But the intense merger and acquisition activity of the past year or so has dispelled this negative image.
The FD who can summarise complex accounts accurately and dispense solid business sense and soundbites with equal panache is highly prized. David Allvey, who will shortly become financial director at Barclays, is typical of this new breed of celebrity FD.
Like Allvey, Glaxo Wellcome’s John Coombe came to prominence through the One Hundred Group of finance directors. But while their public profile has grown, each of them has made important, good-humoured and largely unsung contributions to debates within the Accounting Standards Board that will shape the way accountants work for years to come.
Nigel Turnbull of the Rank Group is likely to have an even more significant impact on UK business practice. He led the English ICA committee that examined the corporate governance requirements for listed companies and lent his name to the report that set out the new rules and regulations for company directors.
Turnbull is one of those accountants in business who appears to have retained a reticence learned while training in practice. Practitioners are expected to understand how businesses function in every aspect, but usually have to keep that knowledge to themselves. It is hoped that what they make in fees compensates for their lack of public esteem and kudos.
The partnerships in which so many accountants operate provide an outward expression of individuals’ characters. Some observers suggest some firms generate such composite cultures that they are absorbed by people within the organisation.
At the profession’s peak, PricewaterhouseCoopers has dedicated itself to creating such a culture over the past year as a way of bonding the merged partnership’s two wings. It is a credit to many of the characters involved that the merger has been the success it is. But because so many people have participated in the process, it is difficult for outsiders to identify the key players.
There is less ambiguity over at Deloitte ?amp Touche where UK corporate finance partner John Connolly has assumed command of the UK firm and overseen a growth spurt that is pushing 30% in the UK. ‘The culture within a big partnership is dictated from the top,’ says one Deloittes partner. ‘You have to adjust your firm to meet the expectations of the market place. Connolly is more prepared to speak about the way the firm is doing – both its successes and shortcomings. He is creating a much more confident firm.’
Given the wide variety of roles accountants play, it is hard to grasp the profession’s true reach. And with six different professional bodies to choose from in the UK, it is difficult to balance the claims of candidates from rival institutes. Though the recent framework for self-regulation issued by the of trade department was the result of a huge consultation exercise, it became known as the Swinson Plan because of the key role played by the immediate past president of the English ICA, Chris Swinson.
This time last year, the profession still faced the threat of having a new regulatory structure imposed on it by the government. As chairman of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies, Swinson recognised the need for a unified response. He cajoled allies into line behind the regulatory structure he devised.
When the government’s reforming zeal began to wane, it embraced the Swinson plan with only minor changes. As a result, from January next year, the profession will form a regulatory structure of its own design. Even Swinson’s critics acknowledge the scale of this achievement.
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 not alone in exerting an influence within the corridors of power. His successor as president of the English ICA, Dame Sheila Masters of KPMG, has extensive contacts in Whitehall and is a deputy governor of the Bank of England.
And an impressive number of accountants are playing an active part on government task forces including the company law review panel.
‘With this government, the person you need to have influence with is the prime minister,’ says one insider. ‘You need to have done something significant in business or speak his language.’ With reforms still pending on insolvency law and limited liability partnerships, the profession desperately needs to strengthen its links with the government.
Our Taking Stock page showcases accountants’ extra-curricular activities.
The variety of these pursuits, ranging from car racing to art exhibitions, charity sports and poetry, shows what sort of characters emerge when the profession lets its hair down.
The need to boost accountancy’s image has been a constant theme over the past year, linking Accountancy Age’s back page to serious debates taking place within firms and institutes.
Those looking for a personality who reached out and touched the masses – even displaying a touch of sex appeal, wit and other elusive human qualities – might consider the claims of Horwath Clark Whitehill’s Brandon Stringer, the trainee accountant who appeared on Blind Date.
If you want to enter your trainee, financial director, large, small or medium-sized firm, public-sector achievement or even your annual report and accounts into this year’s Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence, now is the time to start framing your entry.
There are 12 categories in this year’s awards including a new category for trainee accountants.
You can email us to request an entry form (see below for details). This year, there is one category that will be judged by readers – Personality of the Year. Nominees will be drawn by Accountancy Age’s editorial team, and shortlisted by the judging panel. Readers can then vote for the winning personality.
Entry is free, with an extended deadline for entries of 13 August.
Ceremony: 3 November 1999 at the Natural History Museum, London
For an entry form: call 0171 316 9554 or email: email@example.com
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