No matter how it’s explained, or what context is employed, the membership of
the ICAEW will look upon the resignation of Eric Anstee and think of only two
things – the failed attempt to merge with CIMA and CIPFA, and the furore
surrounding Graham Durgan, the man supposed to become president but forced to
stand down after it emerged that his own company had won an institute contract.
Looking back at the last three years it will be hard to see past those
things. The merger looms large over Anstee’s time in office – for all the wrong
reasons – after all, he failed to win enough support and was forced to shelve
it. Worse, the epidosde left a bitter feeling among a large proportion of the
members who believed they had been alienated by an executive that no longer had
their interests at heart.
But just as the dust looked as if it might settle, Anstee revealed this year
that he was prepared to take the institute through it all again, and merger
would be back on the agenda by 2007. The reaction was swift and the letters page
of Accountancy Age soon echoed to demands for Anstee’s resignation and,
at one stage, the resignation of the whole executive committee.
The Durgan incident has hurt the institute, and though it did not perhaps
involve Anstee directly, it will be said that it happened on his watch and
questions will be asked of how a thorough chief executive could let such a thing
happen. Damage by association can sometimes have a sting all of its very own.
Anstee also found himself in conflict with other institutes. Most recently
with CIMA, which asked the Financial Reporting Council to look into ICAEW
efforts to poach the members of other professional bodies. The Scots
institute also felt the need to complain after it was mooted that a newly merged
institute would call itself the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
The fact is that Anstee has had a torrid time. His term of office has been
marked by public wrangling, near visceral criticism of his tenure and a tendency
to roll from one conflict to the next. Large chunks of the institute’s
membership will not be sorry to see him go; there may even be more senior
members of the profession happy to see the end of an era in which the ICAEW has
appeared to be much more divided than at any time before.
In reality, Anstee’s arrival and departure marks a battle for the institute’s
future. Would it come of age, recognise the need to expand into the global
economy, and forge relationships that would expand the membership and
international reputation of the institute? Or, would it remain UK-centric, a
somewhat inward-looking organisation focused rather narrowly on remaining an
elite British club?
It was clear what Anstee wanted to do. His problem was convincing a certain
part of the membership. If he failed at anything he failed at that – to persuade
them he could expand internationally and still service the needs of the
institute member in the smaller practice. In short, they had little faith in the
institute’s ability to serve their needs and Anstee’s understanding of what
their needs were.
Anstee himself admitted his persuasion failure this year, a statement which
at the time gave no hint that his time at the ICAEW was coming to an end. He
talked confidently about approaching the members again to convince them that
merger was a necessity and that it risked nothing.
Accountancy Age backed the merger plan, essentially because it began
the process of rationalising the profession and reducing its fragmentation. It
made good sense. Anstee could see that and falling student numbers made it an
imperative. Without a healthy number of new members each year to offset losses,
the institute would condemn itself to a slow but almost certain decline. Its
influence would be undermined, its prestige diminished and its ability to
attract students damaged still further. It would be in a very sorry state of
Perhaps it was Anstee’s declared intention to push ahead with another merger
proposal that makes today’s statement so surprising. Anstee earlier this year
was clearly looking forward, and was still planning for a time when that central
issue had been settled once and for all. His intentions then, and his decision
now, seem to sit oddly together.
That said, this remains the end of the road for the institute’s first ‘chief
executive’. Let’s not forget that previous leaders were ‘secretary generals’ and
largely hobbled from taking the kind of initiatives Anstee was hired to
This may be a moment for the institute to consider whether it should continue
with a CEO. It would not be wise. Leaders need to have the right powers and
without the authority of a chief executive’s powers the leader of the institute
would be nullified.
So that means finding a new CEO, a task that looks like a tall order at the
moment. Candidates are likely to be wary of the current divided nature of the
membership and where the institute appears to be going.
The first task would be a review of the institute’s strategy. A serious
candidate would want to play a part in developing that rather just adopting an
off-the peg list of objectives of his predecessor.
The second job will be to find some way of reassuring all the dissident
members that their interests have not been forgotten. This may prove the hardest
thing of all given their current entrenched position. A new CEO could find
himself with a very severe test of his skills indeed.
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