Two minutes with: James Gemmell CA, The Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability

By Robert Outram, CA magazine

19 October 2015

Robert Outram talks to James Gemmell CA, deputy chairman and honorary treasurer of the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability.

James Gemmell

When did you qualify as a CA and who did you train with?

I qualified in 1965 after a five-year apprenticeship with AC Philp &Co in my home town of Dunfermline.

My apprenticeship included an academic year at Edinburgh University.

Tell us a bit about your career history...

I worked in Edinburgh with Graham Smart & Annan/Deloitte Plender Griffiths & Co and at the same time was a part-time lecturer to final year ICAS students. I moved to London in 1970 with Deloitte and then became a partner, and latterly chairman of Horwath Clark Whitehill, now Crowe Clark Whitehill, for about 30 years. On retirement, I took over as European chairman and regional director of Crowe Horwath International.

What does your role as deputy chairman involve?

The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability (RHN) is a charity founded nearly 170 years ago. Brain-damaged patients, who have suffered strokes or car accidents and the like, are referred for rehabilitation and/or long-term care. I work closely with the chairman and the CEO reviewing and developing future visions, strategies and change. We meet with the executive team regularly.

What's the best thing about your position?

Seeing and hearing how the charitable funds are used to enhance the life of patients. For example, the RHN is one of the pioneers in the use of infrared-beam technology to enable patients who cannot move or speak because of "locked in syndrome" to use eye movements to write and to talk. One very special patient wrote a book of poetry using this method.

…and the worst?

Managing the routine finances of a hospital, despite the very positive NHS support for the 95 per cent of patients who are NHS-dependent. So charitable resources are vital.

What other non-executive positions do you hold?

Having just been invited to join the ICAS Gold Club after 50 years of membership, I am, contrary to what my wife believes, beginning to slow down. I remain an adviser to a group of UK companies and to a series of family trusts. I am also chairman of a local Child Contact Centre, which provides a safe and neutral place for separated parents to meet the children with whom they no longer live.

Proudest moment so far?

Not pride, but I got some real professional satisfaction some 20 years ago when I represented ICAS as vice-chairman of a CCAB working party, which enabled public interest disciplinary enquiries, audit reviews and related matters to be moved away from the six professional bodies and into what is now the FRC [Financial Reporting Council]. Other professions still have to learn that lesson.

I was also awarded an honorary fellowship by the School of Pharmacy, University of London, for services as treasurer, the closest I got to a university degree.

You've been involved with the Caledonian Club, in London, for a number of years. What appeals to you about the club?

I have lived in Surrey for the last 40 years so the club is my second home, and office, in London. It provides good food and good company, especially when you are on your own. I am always delighted at the welcome fellow members, who have not previously met, give each other at the club table or in the bar. Membership is open to "those with an empathy for Scotland" and ICAS members are by definition eligible. The club has a distinctly Scottish flavour, but there is a strong international membership too.


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