Are accountants wannabes?

It’s strange that we adopted a French word to describe what we regard as a
strength of the Anglo-Saxon spirit, but perhaps this goes some way to explaining
why there are so many confusing nuances attached to it.

You can find the word entrepreneurial in all manner of unsuitable places
these days, but let’s agree for the moment that an entrepreneur is someone who
has a gift for starting and succeeding with new businesses.

Most would agree that entrepreneurs are born not made. They are
commercially-minded spirits who seek something beyond the shackles of a
corporate environment. They are comfortable dealing with levels of risk that
most would prefer to avoid and are happy to allow their instincts to guide them
to the same degree as more objective indicators. In any case, they aren’t people
who follow the safe path.

So, it was a surprise when our latest survey revealed that ‘one in three
accountants are frustrated entrepreneurs’, or that 20% regard Richard Branson as
the most inspirational figure in public or business life?’ It may not surprise
accountants but it would certainly surprise those outside the profession. Most
people might assume that entrepreneurs would instinctively avoid the straight
jacket of a three-year training contract, and, even if they did become an
accountant, wouldn’t there be a danger that the training would knock the spirit
out of them?

For some time now, accountants have made vague attempts to lay some claim to
entrepreneurial ground. I’ve heard those in public practice claim that their
‘partnerships’ with their clients make them ‘quasi employees’ who play a key
role in setting strategic direction.

Accountants in industry point to the fact that one in four FTSE 100 companies
have an accountant as their CEO and newly qualifieds talk at length about how
their training doesn’t teach them to avoid risks but how to identify and control

But does any of this have anything to do with being an entrepreneur? Working
in partnership with clients and heading up FTSE companies is some way from our

But so what? Why do accountants feel the need to make claim for such ground?
One only needs to look at City bonuses and the rising salaries caused by the
increase in regulations to realise the true winners in today’s game are those
who speak the language of finance. Nobody does that better than ‘homo

Max Williamson is chief executive of Careers in

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