Dr Tom Mitchell shares the story behind CGPM Consulting
Edinburgh-based CGPM Consulting specialises in two very different fields – charities and internal investigations. Partner Dr Tom Mitchell talks Fraser Allen through his varied career and why he’s now aiming to give something back
Education is the key
Dr Tom Mitchell CA’s qualification has proved to be a passport both to the world and to a richly varied career. “I think it’s an illustration of what you can do with a CA,” he says. “I’ve always seen it as a doorway to opportunities. I didn’t want to follow the typical career path of the time, which was to come out of audit, become a management accountant and go up the chain. I don’t know why but I knew that wasn’t for me.”
In fact, it seemed unlikely that accounting of any kind was for Mitchell until relatively late. He started life in his family’s market gardening business, and might still be there had the sector not shrunk. He earned a PhD in horticultural biochemistry, looking to learn the theory behind the practice. “But by that time, it was 1988 and the market gardening sector had collapsed, so I had to look for something else to do. Then I saw a big sign in the library at Reading, saying ‘Free transport, free meal and £30 in your pocket’. The job was to act as a guinea-pig interviewee for partners and managers at KPMG who were being trained for the milk round. I came out of it with a job.”
Mitchell qualified at KPMG in 1991, and soon gained international experience, working at KPMG Warsaw, before moving to Coopers and Lybrand in Slovakia. His next assignment was with Bank of Scotland, first in new product development in the Asia-Pacific high-net-worth market “and a bit of risk management in Europe”, before moving to a troubleshooting role within the business. His overseas adventures continued after Bank of Scotland, with a couple of years at the Bank of Bermuda and a spell with KPMG Thailand. “And by the end of Thailand, my wife said ‘Tom, it’s time you were home!’”
Settled back in Scotland, Mitchell worked for Mazars and Chiene + Tait, before making his break from the “traditional career path” and founding CGPM Consulting in 2008 in Edinburgh with the goal of filling a gap in the charities market. “The big charities were very well served, but access to specialist governance and risk services was more challenging,” he says. “So we specialised in supporting organisations holding a charity registration including social housing, tertiary education, etc, and have since worked with some of the larger ones too. We’ve also provided full-scope board secretarial services.”
Mitchell also developed a second strand to the business, focused on governance, finance and regulatory investigations, typically addressing financial irregularities, governance failures and the misconduct of senior employees. “It was driven by a lot of the turnaround work and troubleshooting I had done earlier in my career,” he says. “We’ve been very fortunate that most of the charity business we have generated has been word of mouth, and client retention has been very good,” he adds. “But of course, on the investigation side, client retention doesn’t really apply because you’re the person giving the bad news!”
Of late, Mitchell has been downsizing the business and looking to the next stage of his life. “Personal circumstances changed during the pandemic and made me think differently about the future, so I’m very focused on achieving a greater balance between professional, pro bono and personal commitments. That said, I’m involved in a digital governance start-up focused on small and micro-charities,” he says.
Mitchell, who sits on the ICAS Charities Panel, will also continue the extra-curricular charity work he has been cultivating for the past 15 years. Having developed “a growing sense of wanting to give something back”, Mitchell became a trustee of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in 2008. That was followed by a similar role at the Donkey Sanctuary, which is headquartered in Devon but operates worldwide. Initially unsure whether to take the role, his imagination was captured by the scale of the challenge that the organisation has embraced.
“There are parallels with the Royal Zoological Society,” he says. “Animal welfare, education, conservation and animal crime – for instance, there’s a huge problem with donkey rustling, particularly in Africa, driven largely by the Chinese trade in extracting collagen for skin products. The Donkey Sanctuary does a lot more than I initially realised – and on a huge scale. And they’re very good at what they do.”
As well as the Donkey Sanctuary, Mitchell works with the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, which focuses on practical forestry education. In a sense, the wheel has turned full circle.