50 years in the profession: Gold Club CAs share their experience

gold pen
By Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

17 November 2016

Eleanor O’Neill talks to the CAs who have been watching the profession evolve for half a century.

The ICAS Gold Club invites CAs who have been qualified members for more than 50 years to attend exclusive annual events and network with peers from around the world.

Over the course of extended and illustrious careers, these CAs have ventured into every industry, sector and business imaginable and have reinforced the value of the profession on an international scale.

Former ICAS President and Gold Club member Primrose Scott CA, reflecting on the impact the CA has had on her career and life, said: "I have always enjoyed my work and am proud to be a member of the oldest, and in my opinion the best, accountancy institute in the world.

"I have benefited greatly when working in practice from good mentoring from my seniors and being a CA opened many doors and gave me the confidence to take up new challenges."

50+ years in the profession

Primrose started her career at a small accountancy practice in Ayr, eventually moving to Edinburgh after qualifying with ICAS. She progressed through the ranks and two mergers to become a Partner in Deloitte Haskins and Sells, leaving after seven years to set up her own practice in Linlithgow.

In 1994, Primrose became the first female President of ICAS, having served on the ICAS Council for some time. Five years later, she left her practice to set up the ICAS Quality Review programme.

Tom Corrigan OBE CA has been a CA for over 60 years and still vouches for the value of the qualification. He said: "The discipline which is injected into you during the period of training remains with you for the rest of your life. That's an enormous benefit.

The discipline which is injected into you during the CA training remains with you for the rest of your life.

"It may seem dull at the time but it does teach you integrity and gives you the moral courage to stand up for things when the going gets tough."

Nelum Gidwani CA, currently based in Mumbai, was invited to his first Gold Club event this year and still operates a consultancy practice as a semi-retired CA.

“One advantage I have experienced is the immediate status, wherever you go as a consultant, if you are a CA. It is automatically accepted that you are of a certain level and above," he noted.

"Another is the amount of interaction I have had with many accountants in the practicing world and that, as an ICAS member, they talk to me on par. Therefore, I have been able to keep in touch with what is happening in the world of accounting, tax, governance and other issues."

From the Big Eight to the Big Four

Having been a part of the finance and business worlds for several decades, Gold Club CAs are perfectly placed to remark on the evolution of the CA role and the wider professional community.

"The use of technology is the biggest change to the profession I have seen. We did not even have adding machines when I started. I still add up columns of figures in my head," Primrose commented.

“I think one of the biggest changes to the profession was the emerging of global firms, particularly on the scale we see now," Tom added.

“Whether that is a good or bad thing is difficult to say. Some think it's bad to have the business so concentrated on the Big Four. But, on the other hand, it's not easy for anyone else to provide a global service to the large companies that make up the biggest market."

Big Four

(Image credit: g0d4ather/Shutterstock.com)

Prior to the late 1980s, the accountancy profession was defined by a 'Big Eight' group of firms. Several mergers led to the 'Big Six' emerging in 1989 which later became the 'Big Five' when Price Waterhouse joined with Coopers & Lybrand to form PwC in 1998.

The well-established dominance of the Big Four that we see today was partially due to the collapse of Arthur Andersen in the wake of the 2001 Enron scandal. Most of the firm's country practices around the world were absorbed into the remaining big global brands.

Ethical improvements

Nelum, on the other hand, identified the ethical developments of the profession and the reputation of accountants themselves as what he considers the most significant change.

“The emphasis on disclosure, most definitely, has made a remarkable difference. It has resulted in much higher governance standards and much higher scrutiny by investors.

“Also, in the days when I qualified, accountants were considered stuffy old people. Auditors were thought to be an unnecessary statutory requirement and today that has changed a great deal. Today an accountant is sought after for their views and advice."

In the days when I qualified, accountants were considered stuffy old people.

Nelum earned his CA in 1965 and went directly into industrial business, namely with consumer products and the shipping industry. During this time, he became invaluable in initiating the major diversification of a large shipping company and restructuring their finances to deal with international business.

After 15 years of heavy involvement in that sector, Nelum moved into a consultancy role at an accounting firm, the largest in India at the time.

For the past 22 years, however, he has operated as an independent consultant and is currently 'semi-retired', having cut his workload down over the last year.

Coming together

There are two upcoming lunch events, at The Caledonian Club in London and the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in  Edinburgh, where ICAS Gold Club members can meet with peers and enjoy a drinks reception and two-course meal.

Events held for Gold Club CAs in Scotland are in association with Charlotte Square Investment Managers.

Tom, who is based in London, has enjoyed a long and industrious career and now attends these and other ICAS events on a regular basis.

“A number of excellent events throughout the country have improved enormously the fellowship within ICAS by bringing together members of all ages and from all aspects of business, public sector, the profession and so on," he said.

“I regard that as being one of the best moves by ICAS that has ever happened."

Event speaker

Tom started off in the oil industry, earning the title of Chief Accountant at an international company at a very young age. He then spent some time in investment banking before being headhunted for the CFO role in one of the UK's largest paper producing companies.

In 1971, he became CEO and in 1975 Executive Chairman, carrying on at the head of the business after its' acquisition by a major US corporation in the early 1980s. Soon after, Tom began taking on non-executive roles in a variety of industries.

His public sector work was largely defined by his appointment as Chairman of the then consumer watchdog for the postal industry. Tom has also been involved with the Charter Mark Award, now known as the Customer Service Excellence accreditation, and the Queen's Award for International Trade, both as Chief Assessor.

Passing on wisdom

With such impressive track records, fellow CAs could stand to learn a thing or two from these experienced minds.

Primrose had these words of wisdom: “Believe in yourself and never stop learning.  Value your skills and use them to help others.”

"Always ensure the integrity of any data you prepare, process or take decisions on," Tom advised. "Avoid any shortcuts. Always ask the question: Do the numbers make sense?

"I've seen so many accountants of all types producing numbers when they haven't stood back and said 'Does this really mean what it says?' And often it doesn't."

Nelum said: “See the change coming and act on it. Recognise change, see what the competition is doing, why they’re doing it and why it is successful."

He also pointed out that different generations of CAs have plenty to learn from each other on both sides.

"You must always work with people younger than you. If you are 40, you should work with 30-year-olds. If you are 60 you must work with everybody from 30 to 55. Otherwise you can't see change coming and get stuck in old-fashioned views."

If you have been an accredited member of ICAS for 50 years or more, you are automatically eligible to attend Gold Club events.

For more details, please see the upcoming lunches in London and Edinburgh and contact the ICAS events team.


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