William Barney, at the time head of hotel consulting at KPMG, traded places with a hotelier. He spent a productive day plumping up pillows and sampling the lunch menu.
No change there then. But a grounding in professional services often leads to all sorts of things. An example is William McGrath, chief executive of Aga Foodservice Group.
McGrath started at KPMG in the 80s before switching to corporate finance with Kleinwort Benson. He worked alongside Tim Horlick, other half of Nicola Horlick, the ‘superwoman’ fund manager. McGrath moved into industry and surfaced in 1997 as finance director of Glynwed, a sleepy industrial conglomerate.
Glynwed’s divisions included Aga, venerable maker of kitchen-warming stoves. In 2001, the group sold its dull industrial bits, changed its name, and set about reinventing itself as a cooker and refrigeration business. Using the cash raised in 2001, it snapped up familiar names such as Fired Earth, the paint and tiles group, and La Cornue, the French oven maker.
The company has used acquisitions to springboard it into the US and mainland Europe. With price tags of up to £10,000 for a new Aga – double that for La Cornue – you need to be a partner in a Big Four firm to afford one.
British industry is replete with people like McGrath, who took a punt on life outside the Big Four. Not all of them make it to chief executive, but few regret the move.
Professional accountancy is right for some, but rarely panders to the entrepreneurial urge. But few dispute that it gives you a great grounding in business. Judging when to quit is the difficult bit.
Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.
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