Under his own steam

Jim Pettigrew, President of ICAS – the oldest professional body for Chartered Accountants in the world – and Chairman of Clydesdale Bank, talks about handling these and his many other roles, how to build on the success of the City of London, and his penchant for a certain steamboat 

Jim Pettigrew CA (left) and Alderman Alan Yarrow, Chartered FCSI(Hon), CISI Chairman and Lord Mayor, at Mansion House, London
To say that the City of London’s reputation has received a few knocks in recent times is, on the obvious scale, akin to saying that the sun is hot. But Jim Pettigrew CA, whose roles include Chairman of Clydesdale Bank, non-executive member on several boards including Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) and recently elected President of ICAS – the professional body for Chartered Accountants – is a huge fan of the City. 

“I see the City like it’s a luxury watch," he says. "All these intricate moving parts that come together in harmony and just work."

That’s not to say this down-to-earth Dundonian, who lists CFO of ICAP and CEO of CMC Markets on his CV, is not a realist. “Of course, there’s tons that goes wrong from time to time,” he says, “and we can always go back through the ‘retroscope’ and say we should have done that better, but fundamentally, I think the City is great.”

Making connectionsPettigrew exudes an endearing excitement and energy. This could be because he has just come from London’s Mansion House where he gave a speech on the City’s future and met with the CISI’s Chairman, Lord Mayor Alderman Alan Yarrow, Chartered FCSI(Hon). Something tells me, though, that Pettigrew is like this all the time. His animated manner probably goes some way to explain why The Scotsman newspaper once nicknamed Pettigrew the ‘Dundee Dynamo’ and how he manages to juggle his many responsibilities.

But it seems the latter is more practical than that. Pettigrew explains that managing demanding roles is about making connections between them. “I’ve just recently been at the AAM board meeting in Edinburgh talking about the financial markets and the current issues, and now I’m here speaking with the Lord Mayor about those issues (on behalf of ICAS). It all connects and really helps.”

Leaning in, as though about to reveal a secret, Pettigrew adds: “And you never stop learning. I always start each day thinking, ‘I’m learning something new’.”

A new appointment
In April this year, Pettigrew, who repeatedly admits that he was not a particularly great auditor when he started out at Arthur Young McLelland Moores some 30 years ago – “I was more interested in going to see the different businesses” – was elected President of ICAS. It’s clear from his grin that Pettigrew has taken on the role with great honour. 

“It’s more than an honour,” he corrects me, now solemn-faced. “If you look at all the presidents who have come before” – Pettigrew is the 63rd – “and consider all the great work ICAS do, it’s a privilege.”

The institution has seen generations of highly influential chartered accountants (CAs) pass through its doors. The current City cohort includes Douglas Flint CA, Chairman of HSBC, Martin Gilbert CA, CEO at AAM, and David Nicol Chartered FCSI, CA, CEO at Brewin Dolphin. Nicol also sits on the boards of both ICAS and the CISI.

It is an exciting time to be taking the reins at ICAS. Despite its unwavering Scottish roots, the body has a global outlook, now boasting members from more than 100 countries. Half of its membership is now outside of ICAS’s homeland. 

Burden of responsibilityWith such a global audience and more than 20,000 members, does the new President have any nervous moments? “I don’t really get nervous,” Pettigrew answers. “But whatever I do, I am conscious of the burden of responsibility. I always try my best and hopefully my best is enough.” He quickly adds: “I’m not saying it always is.”

The CV

2015: Elected President, ICAS

2014: Appointed as Chairman of the boards of Clydesdale Bank and National Australia Group Europe

2007: Becomes CEO, CMC Markets

2006: Appointed COO, Ashmore

1999: Garban and Intercapital merge to form ICAP; Pettigrew is appointed CFO

1998: Appointed as group Financial Director, Garban

1993: Appointed as Group Treasurer, Sedgwick

1988: Joins Sedgwick as Financial Director, financial services division

1982: Trains with Arthur Young McLelland Moores & Co, Dundee, Qualifies as an ICAS CA
This burden of responsibility seems to derive from Pettigrew’s evident passion for people, especially the younger generation of CAs training under the tutelage of senior ICAS members through mentoring schemes. 

The graduate programme at the AAM is clearly another rewarding element of the job. “We have a really excellent scheme. I often bump into people and find that they were on the scheme 20 years ago. I think it’s wonderful to see that,” he says.

Seeing the wood for the treesPettigrew himself mentors junior members at ICAS and also has some words of wisdom – although he wouldn’t call them that – for financial services board members. Like how best to distil and disseminate reams of information from a board meeting to employees in a usable format. 

“It’s hard to generalise and it depends on the company. My work on the board of Crest Nicholson, a FTSE 250 (house building) company, doesn’t involve a wheelbarrow of information. It’s a business you can get your hands around. So there’s clarity and you can see the wood for the trees.

“With the more complicated and regulated businesses it’s harder. But accountability, responsibility and clarity of information are the key things,” he sums up. “I accept that’s easy to say and much harder to do, especially in the more complex businesses, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep striving to do it.”

Balancing the pendulumGiven Pettigrew’s admiration for the City, and with banks like HSBC and Standard Chartered considering a move away from the UK, it begs the question of what it needs to do to remain attractive to investors.

“ICAS and the CISI alike are striving to ensure that the City has the right people with the right skills,” Pettigrew states emphatically. “Traditional education is still important – people need to understand balance sheets – but we’re trying (at ICAS) to focus on the broader education of ethics, integrity, diversity and making things open to all.”

Bolstering infrastructure is another task that Pettigrew feels is imperative if the City is to remain highly competitive: “It’s easy to say we need the right people, but it’s a connected and complex tapestry we’re dealing with here and it’s going to need governance, City leaders and educators to work together in ways perhaps they haven’t worked before.”

And then there’s the 'R' word. “Let’s make sure we have regulation that is balanced, proportionate and right,” Pettigrew says. 

“There’s a pendulum,” he ponders, “between entrepreneurial spirit and control and governance. If you let the pendulum swing too far one way or the other, then you have a problem.” Using Pettigrew’s philosophy, one determines that the financial crisis saw the pendulum swing too far in favour of entrepreneurial spirit. “There was too much leverage going on, and frankly not enough investment in technology, which led to poorer data quality.”

“The right amount of investment in the right innovation is going to be critical for London,” concludes Pettigrew.

Heritage breaking outOutside of the boardroom, Pettigrew has a somewhat quirkier interest: The Waverley, the world’s last seagoing passenger paddle steamer, built on the smoky banks of the Clyde a year after the Second World War ended. The delight with which Pettigrew speaks about the ageing vessel may even rival the fervent way he talks about the City. 

“The financial crisis wasn’t good for institutions, and it certainly wasn’t good for paddle steamers!” he says. “The Waverley met with some really hard times and I was asked if I could help. I was delighted to do that but I’ve never felt so unhelpful.” He adds: “I still try to help out a wee bit.”

A wave of nostalgia permeates the room as Pettigrew speaks of his boyhood days visiting his grandfather and looking out at the steamboats. Later, while studying for his CA exams, Pettigrew would daydream about when he could get back out onto the river.  

Pettigrew enthuses that the upkeep of these vessels is important to keeping the memory of fine Glasgow shipbuilding alive. And it’s a great advert for Scotland. “Wherever you go in the world… if you cross the river in Singapore you see it on the side of the boats. Glasgow. Falkirk. It’s Scottish heritage breaking out,” he says. A bit like ICAS, perhaps.
Published: 23 Jun 2015
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