Steven Mugglestone

The more I learn, the less I know

Are Accountants Really Boring or Really, Really Boring

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Are Accountants Really Boring or Really, Really Boring

I started to write a technical piece, but I was distracted by the eternal debate that appears to have started again.  Are Accountants really boring or really, really boring.

Yes, I am an Accountant and yes I am part of a firm of accountants, in fact I am a Chartered Accountant and part of a firm of Chartered Accountants.  I have lived with this all of my working life.  I trained as an Accountant and qualified as an Accountant (although, I do not have an Accountancy degree, it was Economics).  I have worked in business, as a finance director, which is like an Accountant, just more decisive.  I have faced the stigma and the ridicule, the tumble-weed silence when someone asks you what you do.  I consider myself a fairly confident and comfortable individual, married with children.  The stigma of instantly explaining that I am an Accountant usually means that I tend not to tell new acquaintances what I do.  I tend to have a good chat and sometimes later in the discussion I get asked the inevitable question and usually I get the same response, “No, …. Really, … You don’t seem that boring.”

I have read recently how the debate continues, Accountants are boring.

So I have taken some time to have a look at this, …. Sensibly and with the respect and gravitas that the subject deserves.

The Science of It

It appears that in 2005, the City University of Hong Kong proved that accountants were boring and this was due to using dull words and dull methods of communication.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/3342652/Its-official-scientists-prove-why-accountants-are-boring.html

Now, I am sorry, but I think that you will find, that if you study any specialist talking through the technical areas of their roles, it is boring to others.  Physics and rocket science hardly makes great after dinner conversation, but Hollywood can make it look like that they are all Tom Hanks.  And anyway, an academic study to prove that accountants are boring, surely that has to be the apex of boring.

Technical or detailed aspects of any job will be boring but cannot make you boring.  All jobs have a level of technical knowledge and expertise; Formula 1 engineers are intensely technical, yet are seem to be glamorous. Honda pride themselves on the attention to detail and market that as a key USP for what they do.  Professional decorators watch paint drying for a living, but they are not labelled as boring as Accountants.

In fact the technical point and the issue that even Accountants are different can be seen in the categories that in the Accountancy profession, we find ourselves labelling each other, finders, minders and grinder.  The differences between those who are good at getting clients; those that build relationships and those that do the numbers.

The Butt of Many Jokes

Accountants tend to be the butt of jokes and they centre on the boring tag:

An Accountant is:

  • Someone who uses their personality as a form of birth control (I have two sons!)
  • Someone who makes a bold fashion statement by wearing a blue suit instead of grey
  • Someone who isn’t really boring, they just get excited over boring things
  • Someone who does not have the charisma to be an undertaker
  • Someone who does not know that Gap is a clothing store

An extroverted accountant is one who looks at your shoes while he is talking to you instead of his own.

However my favourites have to be:

There are three types of accountants in the world, those who can count and those who can’t!

There once was a business owner who was interviewing people for a division manager position. He selected an engineer, a mathematician, a physicist, a logician, a social worker, a lawyer, a trader and an accountant to interview and decided to select the individual that could answer the question “how much is 2+2?”

•       The engineer pulled out his slide rule and shuffled it back and forth, and finally announced, “It lies between 3.98 and 4.02”.
•       The mathematician said, “In two hours I can demonstrate it equals 4 with the following short proof.”
•       The physicist declared, “It’s in the magnitude of 1×101.”
•       The logician paused for a long while and then said, “This problem is solvable.”
•       The social worker said, “I don’t know the answer, but I am glad that we discussed this important question.
•       The lawyer stated, “In the case of the Crown vs. Svenson, 2+2 was declared to be 4.”
•       The trader asked, “Are you buying or selling?”

The accountant looked at the business owner, then got out of his chair, went to see if anyone was listening at the door and pulled the drapes. Then he returned to the business owner, leaned across the desk and said in a low voice, “What would you like it to be?”

Why is the last joke funny? Yet it speaks volumes about why Accountants are not boring.  It is not that we cheat or that we have an array of despicable tricks (ish).  It is that we are trained to think laterally, finding an answer and solution for our clients in what we do, despite apparent problems and issues.  We try and cut through the issues and problems and solve the problem, in whatever way we can.  We are solution providers and aim to get clients where they want to be.  There is no such answer as no and there is no such statement as “It cannot be done.”

Glamour and fame does not necessarily mean that you are not boring

Living with the stigma of being an Accountant has meant that I do not immediately tell people, as I explained earlier.  Yet it can appear that working in the more interesting world of showbiz can mean that you are instantly seen as interesting and glamorous, even if in reality you are, well, boring.

Everybody has an odd story about meeting a TV celeb and I am not any different.  Mine comes from meeting a celeb as part of the hobby that I have, a hobby that used to be seen as unusual and weird unless you were Welsh or gay with a Judy Garland obsession, I sing.  But now since the advent of Last Choir Standing, X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and now Glee, it seems not only acceptable, but actually cool.

I was actually taking part in a large choral piece with a group of choirs and we had an afternoon rehearsal before the evening performance.  I stood next to a chap, who I did not know, and spoke to him during the coffee break.  Now I usually  have a high tolerance for boring people but he was pushing that somewhat and he started to say to me that he likes singing but “with his job” he does not really get enough time to join in with singing stuff.  Now at that time, I was going to ask what he did, but I did not get the chance and we carried on chatting or he carried on talking at me and he kept dropping in with, “of course with my job I don’t get a lot of free time and of course with my job I am out and about a lot.”  Well, I kind of got the message, but decided that I would not ask him what he did, let alone realise that I was supposed to know already.

Afterwards I was asked by the others around me, what was he like? What did we talk about?  I did not know that he was a famous TV presenter (of the DIY/house-changing/gardener-ish ilk), yet I declared that he was ok, a bit boring and pretty self-centred.

A lot of people in business say that perception is everything.  I think that is true in this case, he was perceived to be interesting and famous, and I am sure that it is true about Accountants.

Accountants in business and as leaders

The UK has about 50,000 family doctors, but nearly 280,000 professionally qualified Accountants.  That is a lot of boring people.  At any one time there are 165,000 registered students training to be Accountants.  That is a lot of young people wanting to be boring people.

Around 80% of FTSE 100 Companies have at least one Chartered Accountant on their main board of directors.  Many Finance Directors go on to be Chief Executives and prove to be successful, ok Gordon Brown did not do that well.

And Accountants have gone on to fame and fortune and have shaken off their old image as being boring:

  • Barry Hearn – Boxing manager and sports events promoter
  • J. P. Morgan – This famous financier and banker
  • Pádraig Harrington – The former PGA and Open Golf Champion
  • Lee Van Cleef – Hollywood star of spaghetti westerns
  • John Major – Former British Prime Minister and often described ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ (…no wait that’s Mike Tyson). Major trained as an accountant. Some might say, “Unsurprising!”
  • Kenny G – The saxophone player
  • Josiah Wedgewood – As in Wedgewood the potter.
  • Luca Pacioli – Big mates with Leonardo Da Vinci.
  • John Grisham – The best-selling author, and I thought he was a lawyer
  • Robert Plant – The Led Zeppelin rock legend
  • Cecil Parkinson, former Conservative MP and now Baron Parkinson

And for those in the West Midland who have already have heard of Peter Murphy, he was included in an article in the FT in December 2010 as the story of the Accountant who went on to feature on the South Bank Show, meet the Queen and play harp for Queen Anne-Marie of Greece.

Has Accountancy made me boring?

I do not believe Accountancy has made me boring, but I let others be the judge of that.  I do believe that it has given me an insight into how businesses work and what does not work.  It has given me insight into how you can build a business, sustain a business, the importance of supporting structures for business, for operational issues and improvement, the importance of strategic thinking, of assessing where you are now, where you want to get to and how to structure a plan of how to get there.  It has given me an insight into finance, into cash management and working capital and it has given me insight into taxation, what can be achieved and what cannot be achieved.  It has given me an insight into leadership and change management and what makes organisations work and what deters them from working well.  It has given me an insight into recruitment and appraisal and how to challenge others and help them improve, how to empower others to improve the business and to enhance the team, their skills and achievements as well.  It has allowed me to work with a large number of businesses, helping them achieve their goals.  It has given me an opportunity to understand the real meaning and importance of good marketing and sales as the lifeblood of a business.  It has allowed me to be involved in marketing initiatives, new start-up businesses, new funding initiatives, working with banks, with other business organisations, with universities and new technologies.  I have worked on business turnarounds, helping business turn a corner and re-build.  I act as Finance Director for a number of innovative start-up innovative product businesses, new technologies and leisure businesses.  It allows me to talk to and meet new contacts and potential new clients on a constant basis.

If all of that means that Accountants are boring, then, well I am ….. boring I suppose.

Steven Mugglestone BA FCA, McGregors Corporate, More than just Accountants!

McGregors Corporate are a Member Of Probiz Tax.  We provide Innovative Tax Solutions to Owner Managed Businesses.  We are relentless in helping businesses.  Here are some examples of how we do that:

Accelerate Your Business Growth and get supported with Grant Funding.
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How an FD drives a business when sometimes Accountants are just catching up
http://wp.me/pQyUg-j

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We build our business by increasing our clients sales;
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Written by Steven Mugglestone

February 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm

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