Institutes – Presidents on parade

Institutes - Presidents on parade

There are worse tasks than defending a Mexican village against a horde of desperate bandits - guiding a professional organisation for one. This year, however, the institutes' six new presidents face a seemingly tougher task than before, with reform and rebuilding uppermost in their minds. Accountancy Age set out to discover their plans for the year ahead. One thing is certain - they're all coming out shooting.

Enlish ICA – Sheila Masters

Many of the English ICA’s 500 staff, and a significant number of its active members, are waiting in some trepidation for Dame Sheila Masters to assume the institute’s presidency next week.

The KPMG public sector specialist has a formidable reputation for both her forthright style and her determination to push through reforms – and push them through fast.

Not that she minds. Dame Sheila, the institute’s first woman president, says: ‘I have done a lot of things and people who get things done are sometimes seen as aggressive.’

She takes over the presidency from her rather more conciliatory predecessor Chris Swinson in the midst of an extensive reform programme.

Every aspect of the institute faces a radical overhaul – a process that has already ruffled feathers. For example, a strategy document outlining some of the reforms was blocked at a council meeting in April after protests from district societies concerned about plans to make them self-funding.

Dame Sheila, however, is determined to keep driving reforms through.

Her vision of the institute is: ‘A thoroughly modern organisation that uses the best business practices and is a member-relevant body.’ This vision, she argues, can be brought closer by greater use of digital technology. She describes a scenario where the institute and its 115,000 members can communicate quickly and cheaply via email, which will not only make two-way communication more efficient, but also allow the institute to target different constituencies in its diverse membership.

‘You can communicate in a more tailored way and make sure you don’t send members things they are not interested in. Potentially, if we harness the technology we actually start to have a very different sort of institute. Maybe we could have a president’s chatroom? Certainly we could have special interest groups.’

She disagrees with the characterisation of recent rows at the institute as a battle between reformers and traditionalists. ‘There is a big recognition on council that there are a number of things in the institute we need to change and do better. What there is less agreement about is what these should be and the timescale. If there is a contrast, it is between gradualism and a fast approach to implementing change.

‘It is clear that some people have been uncomfortable with the pace of change and are unable to keep up.’

Much of the heat created, she argues, can be put down to people feeling uninvolved in the plans. She blames ‘a fundamental failure of communication’ for the recent district society row. ‘Things are now moving forward on a more open basis,’ she says.

But she is the first to admit that things never happen as fast as she would like them to.

Anyone who objects to the fast-paced reform programme should also be warned that Dame Sheila appears unbowed by the practical and political difficulties of driving forward change – an area in which she gained much valuable experience during her three-year stint at the National Health Service where she is credited with introducing its internal market.

‘There is nothing equivalent to dealing with the complexities of management issues with doctors and nurses – the institute is a doddle by comparison,’ she says.

It appears that the institute is in for a lively year.

CIPFA – Brian Smith You get the impression from meeting Brian Smith that if rationalisation of the profession rears its head again during his tenure, he would be an ideal person to thrash out a deal.

On rationalisation, Smith believes he can do business with the other president-elects. But, pointing to ACCA plans for a three-way merger last year, he wants to see a period of rest and goodwill where the institutes can talk ‘with confidence’ about future plans.

‘The outside world has a right to believe accountancy bodies are working together. I feel pretty confident that we can and will work together in future,’ he says.

Now working as chief executive of Stoke-on-Trent unitary authority, Smith has risen through the ranks of council treasury departments. He was county treasurer of Staffordshire County Council from 1983 and secretary of the Society of County Treasurers for ‘a long time’.

He moved to Stoke in 1992 to take on the chief executive’s position and, during local government reorganisation in 1996, was reappointed as CEO.

During the 1980s he was president of CIPFA’s South Wales and South West Society and was later president of the Midlands society.

‘Because I have come up from the regions – which in CIPFA are more active than they are in any other accountancy bodies – I am good at relating to those members and hope to spend a lot of time in the regions building up those links,’ he explains.

Although the institute is never far from Smith’s mind – his wife is also a member – he does try to take time out from its frenetic activities.

Outside work, Smith is a self-confessed keep-fit fanatic. ‘I pound the treadmill to get the stress and pressure out of me,’ he says.

Central government’s agenda to modernise itself and local councils are also providing fodder for debate. Smith recognises these issues as critical for his year in office. Modernisation is, after all, the biggest challenge he has faced at Stoke.

He says: ‘This is a period of substantial change. When my year is up, I want people to think I continued that message that we are going in to a new era.’

Considered by his contemporaries to be ‘experienced, well respected, highly intelligent, and nice’, Smith is well equipped for the post of president. One institute colleague said Smith wanted to undertake the job because he cares about the institute.

Smith says: ‘It will not be an easy ride with my work in Stoke. There are twin demands and this is not a year out for me. But CIPFA has done a lot for me and has added a great deal to my career. There is something I want to put back.’ CIMA – David Melvill At CIMA’s London headquarters there is a lift up to the presidential apartment on the fourth floor. CIMA’s new president, however, is determined to take the stairs.

But if the first few months of his presidency are anything like last year’s – when ACCA launched its abortive three-way merger bid with CIPFA and CIMA – David Melvill will need all the spare energy he can muster.

CIMA has urged the institutes to shelve merger plans and co-operate in non-contentious areas, such as education and training.

‘I don’t predict a quiet year but I don’t think we will get involved in more merger discussions,’ says a guarded Melvill. ‘But if ACCA has any constructive proposals I hope it’ll come and talk to us.’

After a degree in Management Sciences at Warwick, Melvill joined Kodak in 1972, and trained with CIMA.

Unusually he has stayed with the photography giant all his career and is currently treasurer of the EMEA region for Eastman Kodak.

‘When I’ve felt like a new challenge Kodak has always been able to provide it,’ he says.

One of his main challenges over the next year will come in increasing the number of CIMA trainees recruited by the Big Five. Revelations in Accountancy Age last month that Big Five and Group A firms have been holding talks with institutes other than the English ICA suggest that the ICA’s stranglehold on Big Five graduate recruitment is slipping.

But the year ahead will also see big internal changes for the institute. A new syllabus – the first for seven years – will start next September, including a case study exam and a greater emphasis on IT skills.

Melvill sees this as a chance to involve more young members in institute work.

‘I’m one of the youngest presidents the CIMA has had. We need to involve younger members,’ he says.

But perhaps the most controversial issue on the horizon is the issue of ethnic monitoring. Prompted by issues raised by the recent inquiry into the racist murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, CIMA’s council has said it will look again at the need for a monitoring policy to track recruitment from ethnic groups. The need for a formal monitoring policy has been rejected by members in the past but Melvill plays down divisions.

‘We’re involved. I don’t think that it’s a major issue within CIMA,’ he says.

Plenty to keep Melvill busy, then, in what is officially a two-day-a-week job.

But as a keen fisherman, he remains quietly confident of a successful outcome. ‘You need a judicious mix of patience and impatience,’ he says.

Scots ICA – Charles Monaghan While other institutes wrestle with education reform, schisms and possible mergers, president Charles Monaghan emphasises that the Scots have worked hard over the past few years to ensure smooth transitions between office-holders.

‘Even in a small institute, modest changes take time to implement,’ he says. ‘We don’t have an initiative of the year – it can be destructive if your priorities change every year.’

Monaghan will concentrate instead on bedding in reforms such as the new activities review and introducing electives to its education syllabus. He also want to see Scottish CAs properly represented on the profession’s new Review Board and on Department of Trade and Industry panels considering changes to company law.

Monaghan has been following the English institute’s education debate with some interest – and sympathy.

‘Even in Scotland, there are quite significant shades of opinion,’ he says. ‘Small practices constitute a majority of our members, but if they want a traditional structure, that can be covered with electives.’

Though the Scots’ initial reforms were rebuffed – as in England – in 1996, the institute may be in a position to introduce electives in time for the new intake in September.

Monaghan is sanguine about the proposed framework for self-regulation and has ‘no problem’ with the 60:40 ratio of lay people to accountants on governing boards.

He bases his opinion on the American experience. ‘When the public oversight board was introduced, the expectation was that the audit profession was in for a hard time in the US. As I understand it, after a year, the lay people said there were a few things that could be better, but in general it was done very well.’

Earlier this year, the Scots ICA introduced its activities review – a programme of inspections intended to keep accountants up to standard.

Monaghan hopes that other accountancy bodies will follow the example.

Having worked for 34 years with Unilever – he was finance director until he retired last December – Monaghan has some useful advice for accountants unused to grappling with their brand image.

‘A brand is a guarantee to the consumer,’ he says. ‘If someone tells you they’re a CA, your impression is that they’re probably a bit conservative, but likely to know their onions and have a reputation for integrity. That’s what I call a good brand.’

The activities review typifies the way the institute tries to differentiate itself by breaking new ground for the profession. As a member of the DTI’s consultative panel, Monaghan is also familiar with the institute’s proposals for overhauling small company reports, which have won the support of the English institute.

‘We have done some pretty good things for a relatively small institute,’ says Monaghan with pride. ‘You don’t have to be big to have good ideas.’

ACCA – John Brockwell It must be rare that an institute president causes such controversy before he even opens his mouth, but such has been the welcome for ACCA’s John Brockwell.

A quietly spoken and considered individual who lists among his range of interests ‘keeping fit through exercise and a sensible diet’, he is hardly a threat to the image of the institute, and this is what ACCA needs.

He was appointed as a last-minute replacement to Ray Gardiner, president-elect and council member for 16 years, who was ousted during a no-confidence vote on the morning of the agm last month.

For all the disquiet that has followed, Brockwell does not seem someone who is easily flustered, smiling when he acknowledges his fast-track rise to supremacy, having been on council for only five years.

But his grooming for the top has taken him to the chairmanship of the Education Committee, and involvement in the Remuneration Committee, Finance Committee and projects for IT strategy. Impressive, certainly, but Brockwell has also had other concerns deriving from the fate of his employer, Marks & Spencer.

Having qualified as recently as 1985, he parallels his career at M&S to that within ACCA as he joined the retail chain at the same time as becoming as accountant.

Today, he supervises 35 financial managers as divisional financial controller in Southern England in a role combining financial and general strategy. His commercial experience will figure highly in his own agenda for the coming year.

‘The corporate sector has probably not had as much profile exposure and I am looking to lead this change,’ he says.

This will be brought about by the review of the ACCA syllabus, to be unveiled in 2001 with an emphasis on meeting the needs of continuous professional development.

The other main thrust of this profile-building will be the conclusion of a worldwide research campaign asking finance professionals’ views regarding the appropriateness of the existing syllabus.

Brockwell is also looking forward to a year of overseas travel to promote ACCA with a particular emphasis on building contacts in the Eastern Bloc.

He is unwavering in his praise for ACCA and defends the institute in all matters including the issue of transparency, which has caused some concern among members since Gardiner’s untimely end.

But he says: ‘We were the first professional body to open regulatory procedures to the public and that demonstrates a high degree of transparency.’

Behind his back, mutterings against Brockwell have so far revolved around the way he became president, rather than about the man himself, but perhaps his year at the top will truly put ACCA in the mirror with M&S – the leadership struggles are behind it but careful management will be needed to put the shine back on the image.

Irish ICA – TIMOTHY QUIN At the beginning of his year in office, incoming president of the Irish ICA Timothy Quin is taking the press very seriously indeed.

Over the past few years, the reputation of the accountancy profession in Ireland has taken a fall in the eyes of the public. A Dail-commissioned report in 1997 named individual firms and accountants involved in financial misconduct, and as a result the national papers keep a close watch for any wrongdoing.

Quin believes it is time to take steps. ‘I think that there is probably a more urgent task to raise the status of the chartered accountant in the Republic of Ireland than there is in the UK,’ he says. One of Quin’s first tasks will be to set about strengthening relationships with the government, civil servants and politicians.

His is the third generation of Quins to pursue a career in practice.

His grandfather formed a Belfast firm in 1895, and his father forsook a career as a barrister to join the family firm.

Quin’s early involvement at the institute brought work on technical committees in the 1970s.

These days, he favours business and management issues over technical work and wants to see a greater recognition for chartered accountants in business.

‘I have believed for some time that what we do in these islands is provide training not just for financial careers but training for management,’ says Quin.

‘A big proportion of board members of FTSE companies are CAs, so there’s quite a history of chartered accountants making it into top jobs. I think we should be training accountants with that in mind.’

But he clearly believes there is scope for improvement.

‘The slightly negative way of looking at that is that young people coming out of accountancy offices aren’t necessarily ready for management positions,’ Quin admits.

‘I am keen that an early task should be to look at a syllabus review and also a review of the technology that we use in education.’

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