Global ambitions for new ICAS President

Jim Pettigrew
By Robert Outram

24 April 2015

Diversity, globalisation and ethics are high on Jim Pettigrew's agenda as he prepares for office as ICAS President.

When Jim Pettigrew, who is set to take on the role of ICAS President today (24 April), met with TPE finalists to talk about the CA life and the career choices ahead of them after qualification, the session only ended with the arrival of the cleaner and a firm warning that the lights would have to be switched off. "I was still talking away!" he recalls.

Nobody who meets him could doubt the anecdote. Jim brims with enthusiasm for business, for people and for his profession, and he's clearly relishing the tasks ahead in his presidential year.

He says the experience of serving as vice-president and then deputy president - to outgoing president Jann Brown - has been a good preparation for this next role. Jim has also been a member of the ICAS Council, which he says was "an enriching experience; there are some wonderful people on the Council".

Such a degree of continuity means that, as he sees it, the aim is to build on ICAS's ongoing strategy. That includes continuing to develop the Institute's global presence and the strength of its networks; to champion issues of gender and diversity within the profession; and above all, to ensure that a strong foundation of professional ethics underpins everything. As he puts it: "Ethics and integrity are central to the DNA of ICAS."

Last year ICAS came to the fore as an independent source of knowledge in the fierce debate surrounding the Scottish referendum on independence.

Jim says: "We set out to take a neutral stance, and we thought about it very carefully. We felt our role was to inform the debate in areas of our expertise, like pensions. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do and ICAS arguably emerged with a higher profile."

He points out, however, that ICAS is certainly not setting out to confine itself to Scottish issues. He says: "Almost 50 per cent of ICAS members are outside Scotland now, and there are a number of wider issues coming up this year. There is a general election in May and, not unconnected to that, there are some issues around Europe. I think ICAS and ICAS members will continue to have a role to play, in terms of informing people."

International membership

ICAS is also focusing on its increasingly international membership, looking to further strengthen the links that have already been established.

"Globalisation is not slowing down. It's here to stay and this year we are looking at how to bring that global community closer together."

The last time The CA magazine caught up with Jim Pettigrew, in 2009, he was chief executive at financial spread betting company CMC, following a career in senior executive roles in the finance sector.

Later that year, he was to step down from the CEO position to take up a portfolio of non-executive posts, including Royal Bank of Canada (Europe) where he was deputy chairman; Hermes Fund Managers, where he chaired the Risk Committee; and AON UK.

He is still a non-executive director with Aberdeen Asset Management and Edinburgh Investment Trust - both "fantastic success stories", says Jim - but his highest profile role at present is as chairman of the board of Clydesdale Bank. Over the past few months he has faced one of the chairman's most critical tasks, the selection and appointment of a new chief executive following the resignation of David Thorburn earlier this year.

Jim praises the contribution of Mr Thorburn, who he says was "a terrific CEO" but is also "delighted" to have been able to bring in David Duffy, formerly CEO with Allied Irish Banks, as Mr Thorburn's successor.

On Mr Duffy's appointment, Jim Pettigrew described him as: "A highly effective and motivational leader with a wealth of international banking experience and a strong track record in retail banking."

Clydesdale is, of course, a subsidiary of National Australia Bank (NAB) and Jim also chairs the NAB Europe board. NAB's confirmation that it is looking to divest its UK assets, including Clydesdale, means that, as chairman, Jim is presiding over what might be called interesting times for the bank.

He says: "I've always been attracted to businesses going through a period of change and I have always believed I could play a part in helping them through that change; Clydesdale is no different."

The banking sector has taken its share of criticism over recent years, something of which Jim is all too aware. He says: "Reputation - of the people, of the bank - is one of the board's key concerns. That's not to say that somebody, somewhere won't make a mistake. But fundamentally, the chairman sets the tone.

"Business, collectively, has to earn the public's trust. It takes years to build up that trust and only seconds to ruin it. Fundamentally, it's about continuing to do the right things."

Starting out as a CA

Jim's career started out with Arthur Young McLelland Moores (now part of EY) in his home town of Dundee.

Quite soon after qualifying as a CA he moved into industry, eventually becoming finance director of the financial services division of Sedgwick in 1988. This was the start of a career in senior executive roles in the finance sector, including CFO at ICAP, the biggest broker in the world for transactions between financial institutions, where he was working with the company's founder, Michael Spencer.

He told The CA, in 2009: "It was great from an FD's point of view, because it meant working with one of the City's great entrepreneurs [Michael Spencer]. I had to deliver value in his eyes, but I also had to apply what I learned back in Queen Street [the old ICAS headquarters], such as the stewardship function, so it was quite a challenging balancing act."

After that he was chief operating officer at Ashmore, an emerging markets investment manager, helping to take the company into its first stock market listing.

In 2007, Jim was appointed as chief executive at CMC, having previously joined the board as a non-executive director. Despite his reservations that he had not been very long in the COO position at Ashmore, he found it impossible to say "no"when founder Peter Cruddas offered him the job as CEO, with a view to taking the company public.

As it transpired, however, market conditions in the wake of the global financial crisis made a listing impossible for the business. That was when the next phase of Jim's career, as a non-executive director with some of the financial sector's biggest names, began, and he stepped down from CMC in the autumn of 2009.

As someone with senior executive experience, is there a temptation to be a "backseat driver" as a non-executive? Jim says: "It's not for everybody - as a non-exec there is a line you are not supposed to cross. But, I think, I haven't had a problem with it. When you are a CFO part of that function is stewardship, asking questions. So that experience helped in the transition.

"It's often said that CFOs - more so than chief executives - make good non-execs. You have to balance giving support to management and challenging them, constructively."

In fact, he believes that the CA's training and work experience helps prepare for the transition to a non-executive role. He explains: "I'd held a number of senior executive roles... so I thought it was time to broaden out. I felt I wanted to build up a diverse portfolio.

"It goes back to my early CA days when I was visiting a lot of different audit clients. It wasn't so much the auditing that interested me, it was the clients. You'd see a variety of different businesses. It was fascinating to see what made them tick.

"Then you go on to an executive career which is full-on, and very fulfilling, but at this stage it's nice to go back to doing a whole range of different things."

"Giving something back"

Alongside his non-executive roles, over the past few years Jim has sat on the Foundation Board, alongside Sir William McAlpine, to secure the long-term future of the vintage paddle steamer Waverley.

More recently, however, "giving something back" to his own profession has become increasingly important to Jim. He joined the ICAS Council and  in the past two years has been first vice-president, then deputy president.

He has also greatly enjoyed meeting the next generation of CAs and sharing his experience and insights. He says: "I've not met a member who was not happy to give their time for something like that. It's a lovely feeling to know that you are helping the next generation.

Jim adds, however: "It's exciting to be able to help the young ones, but... it's also a chance to meet the marvellously gifted people who give their time to ICAS. That's what makes me so passionate about the Institute."

I don't feel I've ever stopped learning.

He says: "I think business could learn a lot from something like the ICAS Council. You put a lot of people together from different backgrounds, different ages, different genders and different personalities and, maybe it gives you challenges chairing it, but it's good."

It's also the sense of continually renewed discovery that keeps Jim's enthusiasm for business, and people, fresh. As he puts it: "Every day I come across something and I find it's very interesting to see, for example, how someone has handled a particular situation. I don't feel I've ever stopped learning."

*This article was first published in the April edition of The CA magazine..

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