PracticeAccounting FirmsView from the board: recruiting a winner

View from the board: recruiting a winner

Finding a new chief executive is never easy – especially at a grand old institute

In the good old days there were two courses of action. Over a good lunch, a
partner at one of the bigger firms would let it be known that he would like to
put something back into a profession that had so richly rewarded him.

Alternatively institute elders simply scanned the Queen’s birthday honours
list, drew up a shortlist of just senior enough, retiring (in every sense) civil
servants and approached a favoured candidate with a package that would make
their retirement a bit more comfortable. Sadly it’s no longer that simple, as
the ICAEW’s search for a successor to Eric Anstee demonstrates.

Headhunters must be appointed, ads taken out and interviews staged – even if
you know who you want to appoint. Being seen to be doing the right thing is
vital for any institute these days – especially if you have presided over the
farce that recently saw Moorgate Place forced to drop president-in-waiting
Graham Durgan over a conflict of interest that, frankly, anyone with half a
brain could have seen coming.

So with the recruitment process in full swing I thought it might be useful to
offer some reminders, for the ICAEW and anyone else in the throes of seeking a
new leader, of pitfalls to be avoided.

1) Beware the handover period. When ACCA sought a
replacement for Anthea Rose, the newcomer endured weeks working under the
famously combative long-time leader.

2) Keep staff informed and on side. When former CIPFA chief
executive David Adams took over he had to face down hostile institute staff and
employees took out their frustrations on the new man.

3) Don’t duck problems. Drawing on Adams’ experience again,
getting everything out in the open is a good thing. ‘All the anger, angst and
upset came out,’ he said of that first staff meeting. ‘It was tough, but it was
also good because we got things out in the open.’

4) Ignore the ignorable. When CIMA appointed ICAEW-qualified
Charles Tilley as chief exec, eyebrows were raised. It rightly pointed out he
was chosen for his experience not his qualification.

5) Get the right person. Last time the ICAEW believed it had
at least two extremely strong candidates on its shortlist and in Anstee it
secured the best one. With an appointment of this magnitude you can’t afford to
settle for second best.

Damian Wild is Accountancy Age editor in chief

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