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Editor's letter - Unfashionable accountants

It has become fashionable to talk about the changing role of the finance director, and to do so in ways that make it abundantly clear that today’s FD is faced with a perfectly clear choice: evolve or die.

Anyone looking for a more comforting message has come to the wrong place.

This fashionable debate is also the right debate. The results of a Financial Director survey carried out in association with conference organisers Business Intelligence make it abundantly clear that FDs are faced with a real pressure to become more involved in the entire business management process, setting strategy, managing projects and measuring things that don’t have pound signs.

But if the FD of the future is first and foremost a business partner whose particular skills happen to be numbers-based rather than, say, engineering or marketing, then surely an intelligent, numerate manager who knows how many beans make five doesn’t actually have to know whether the debits go on the right and the credits go on the left (or is it the other way round?).

In short, does the FD have to be an accountant? A growing number of FDs aren’t. One of our little conversation-stoppers is to suggest that if a barrister, a QC, can be Chancellor of the Exchequer, then surely he can be a finance director. This usually makes FDs splutter with righteous indignation.

But there is hope for the accountant FD. In this month’s Financial Director interview, Sir Lewis Robertson, a company doctor of some repute, makes plain his preference for what he calls the “granite-jawed, Scottish chartered accountant-types who rarely smile but whose numbers are always absolutely dependable”.

Coming from a man who has fired a few finance directors in his day yet successfully saved all seven company rescues he led, his views carry a lot of weight. It certainly seems right that, whatever else the FD of tomorrow may be, the overwhelming majority still ought to be dependable, granite-jawed accountants. Being Scottish may be advisable, but is entirely optional.

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