View from the board: honestly speaking

I can’t believe that many of you haven’t, or won’t be, at some point, in a
situation where you are asked to do something that, deep down, you know is not
right. Now, if that’s in a pub and it’s not illegal, then if anyone should find
out the worst reaction will probably be a wry grin. However, if it’s anything
worse than that, then seriously think about what you are doing because the
consequences could be much wider ranging than you think.

The one thing we all know about accountants is that they have integrity. Good
job too, bearing in mind they should be the financial conscience of the
business, the safeguard of shareholders’ interests and the yin to the CEO’s
yang. When NEDs, shareholders, private equity owners and CEO’s are briefing me
on the new FD they want, the first, almost unspoken, characteristic they mention
is someone of complete financial integrity.

Sometimes that brings other consequences with it. Finance can be seen as too
much of a policeman. But given the choice, any employer or shareholder would
rather an FD that said no than a yes-man. Now, of course, there are nuances. A
good FD says; ‘What a good idea, but it would be better if we didn’t spend a
million on the fountain in the middle of your office etc’. But the point is the
same ­ an FD has to be trusted by all and when that trust is lost, then what

The world is littered with FDs who have lost the public’s confidence. Most
will claim it’s not their fault. In many cases, they are probably right. The
problem is that if the public perceive something as being the truth, then no
matter what the truth is, it’s very hard to change people’s mind. When there’s a
problem and it relates to the numbers, people instantly conclude that it’s the
FD’s responsibility. That’s normally inescapable and when you are pitching for a
job where reputation and integrity matter, that can come back to haunt you.

This problem will almost certainly never affect you in any way ­ because I am
sure you are all fine, honest, up-standing citizens with absolute integrity.
But, as you work your way up the plc ladder, it’s essential that you never lose
sight of the fact that as a FD, your reputation and integrity are inextricably
linked. If you lose one, you lose the other and thanks to the internet, today’s
headlines are no longer tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Ray &

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