The so-called ‘dullness’ of accountants is officially a product of their personality rather than their work, according to psychological studies undertaken in the US.
Researchers concluded the key to an accountant’s greyness is born and not acquired – they choose the career because of their personality.
In the study of professionals including mathematicians and musicians, accountants were revealed as having a lack of ’emotional intelligence’ – which prevents them from being able to read other people’s feelings and understand their own.
Sally Edman, a clinical psychologist, told the American Psychological Association’s annual conference: ‘Accountants are much poorer at working out how other people are feeling; they also have very constant moods,’ she said. ‘This makes them emotionally unintelligent and unfortunately means they tend to be less interesting than the rest of the population.
‘From our research we found people choose professions they think will suit them so we were not surprised to find emotionally unintelligent people end up doing similar jobs,’ she added.
There is a huge gulf between this outdated image of accountancy and the reality of business and practice life. Accountants are far from uniform in personality, and are at the forefront when it comes to entrepreneurial flair.
We’ve seen them leading some of the biggest takeover and merger deals in the UK.
Well-known accountants – successful and far from boring – include the ever-colourful Barry Hearn, the inspirational Jack Rowell and the explosive Rick Parry.
Barry Hearn is best known as a promoter in the world of snooker and boxing.
He qualified as a chartered accountant in 1970 before moving onto Bristow Burrell and chalking up a move to Thomson McLintock. He then became finance director of Kensal House Investments, where he began his involvement in snooker.
He is, or has been, the mentor of sportsmen including Steve Davis, Chris Eubank, Herbie Hide and Steve Collins. He has also turned around the financial fortunes of third division football team Leyton Orient after buying the club five years ago. He has no regrets at his chosen profession, and recollected how it all began.
‘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.’
Rick Parry is a chartered accountant who became chief executive of the football club he had supported from childhood – the mighty Liverpool FC.
He was chief executive of the Premier League for six years, negotiating ground-breaking media and sponsorship deals. 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 the 20 football club chairmen as they set up the Premier League.
He has overseen the competition which brought major investments in new stadia, drove up attendance figures and brought innumerable international stars to the UK.
Parry also oversaw the audit into the infamous ‘bung’ scandals and transfer irregularities. He once had trials with Liverpool and Everton as goalkeeper, but failed to make the team. Instead he is now fulfilling the dreams of thousands of fans by running the club he supports.
In the rugby arena, Jack Rowell is one of the most successful 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.
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. But it’s not just celebrity accountants who lead interesting careers. Many still in practice are involved at the sharp end of the sexiest business deals carried out.
Henry Fairpo, a corporate finance partner at Pannell Kerr Forster, says: ‘Although there are still a lot of beancounters in the profession, we are the only people with an overview of the whole business and are often the driving force because of what we see.’
The famous Rover/BMW split, which included a shake-up of the finance department, brought finance director John Millett to the forefront.
The Carphone Warehouse’s #2bn flotation was led by co-founder David Ross, a former Arthur Andersen trainee.
These headline deals and celebrity accountants in the sporting world suggest a far more rounded range of personalities than the narrow terms of Edman’s research.
Modern accountancy has moved on. Brenda McManns, a regional director with Reed Accountancy Personnel says: ‘We have seen a progressive image change over the years. Just look at Arthur Andersen – this year they introduced a more relaxed dress code. The stereotypical image of the boring accountant has well and truly gone.’
As Teresa Graham, partner at Baker Tilly argues: ‘Try and find a decent financial accountant. They are few and far between and in great demand.
‘The world is our oyster, there is a great shortage of good people and it is not just the adding and taking away that we are required to carry out, but to decide the strategic direction of companies.’
What, in business life, could be less boring than that?
IT’S ONLY THE STEREOTYPE THAT’S DULL
So accountants are by nature emotionally unintelligent (Accountants can’t blame the work – they are born dull, The Independent 9 August)?
On behalf of the English ICA’s 117,000 members, I beg to differ. Accountants have broken traditional stereotypes to become some of the most influential players in the business world, writes Francesca Lagerberg, senior technical manager, English ICA’s tax faculty.
Having a respected accountancy qualification, such as the ACA, opens doors into a variety of livelihoods from forensic accountancy to financial journalism. The ACA offers relevant and flexible training for tomorrow’s business world and continues to attract the creme de la creme of trainees.
Once qualified, accountants embark upon their careers with the potential to re-invent themselves as and when they wish, and with a ticket to work anywhere in the world.
Some of us, of course, choose to remain in the accountancy field, and may even, heaven forbid, choose to specialise in a field like tax. Far from being boring, this opens up a wealth of opportunities. A day in the life of this particular accountant involved being interviewed by London Live, Sky Business News and the World Service, before heading back to the office to edit the Tax Faculty’s website. This was followed by a lively discussion with a group of eminent professionals on positive measures to reform the tax system that could bring about a real change in taxpayers’ lives.
Accountants occupy senior positions in all FTSE 100 companies, shaping business at the highest level. This requires people skills that one would tend to associate with EQ as well as IQ.
The competition has increased in the industry with the influx of newly qualified individuals and if you’re not a well-rounded person, you will lose your clients. Dealing face-to-face with clients is an intrinsic part of an accountant’s training and those who do well have mastered this skill.
The research suggests that accountants are not given to emotional extremes.
This sounds like a back-handed compliment to me. The last thing the small business entrepreneur or the multinational wants or needs is a finance director who is prone to histrionics. Keeping a cool head whilst weighing up business options and providing sound financial advice is surely an asset not a flaw.
It is, of course, the season for silly stories, and generalised classifications of large groups of people are easily exposed for being far of the mark.
Perhaps accountants are simply the victims of not being part of the ‘spin’ culture. We have not had a racy fly-on-the-wall documentary to intrigue the public, as happened for venture capitalists.
The boring tag may be lifted once the profession gets its own TV drama series. We are surely next in line now that solicitors have had This Life.
After all, the only thing dull about accountancy is the stereotype.
JACK ROWELL JOINS AA AWARDS TEAM
Jack Rowell will be part of the judging panel for the Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence.
Rowell, chief executive of Cambridge biotech company Celsis, will join our panel of independent judges including Peter Williams, Selfridges’ FD; Grenville Johnston, chairman of the Scots ICA; and Ken Wild, partner at Deloitte & Touche.
The Accountancy Age Awards for Excellence takes place on 1 November at the Natural History Museum.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE?
The term emotional intelligence was coined by Dr Daniel Goleman. He used it in his best seller Working with Emotional Intelligence to define our ability to acknowledge and deal with emotions – both our own and those of others.
Dr Goleman argues that what marks out high achievers and business leaders is not their IQ but their emotional intelligence – a set of competencies that can be learned and which distinguish how individuals interact and communicate. This capacity is critical in the workplace because it enables us to motivate ourselves and colleagues as well as manage and build relationships.
Barbara Darling, a consultant with Hay McBer, says that while it is people with good technical skills and high IQ who get the jobs, it is emotional IQ that in fields like accountancy gets the job done. ‘IQ becomes a poorer predictor of career success in fields where intellectual capabilities are a pre-requisite. In fields such as law, IT and accountancy, there is very little variation in intellectual capability between candidates.
Emotional intelligence competencies count for 85% of what sets star performers apart from the average – one very strong reason for companies to develop a better work climate to attract these people in the first place.’
Hay McBer research suggests managers with a high emotional IQ foster more creative, fresh-thinking work cultures – factors which impact on the bottom line.
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