Monday interview: Jim Pettigrew, president of ICAS

Jim Pettigrew. Picture: Contributed
Jim Pettigrew. Picture: Contributed
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Jim Pettigrew worries that plethora of regulations could stall the growth of economy and that finding the correct balance is vital

In the backlash against the herd mentality and “casino-style” behaviour that laid the foundations for the financial crash, regulators of all varieties have set down scores of new rules to ensure such a disaster is never repeated.

The name of the game these days is “compliance”, which in itself has become a booming sector as firms of every size and description scramble to meet their statutory obligations.

Jim Pettigrew of ICAS is reluctant to say the pendulum has swung too far, but the organisation’s mantra of “principles rather than rules” hints strongly at his disposition.

“There are lots of good aspects that have come through in the last few years,” says Pettigrew, whose relentless energy is only slightly tempered by the effort to put together a cagey answer. “If you look at the banking world, there is much more focus on liquidity, and that is a good thing – before the crisis, people probably didn’t think enough about liquidity. And there’s the focus now on corporate culture – who could argue against that?”

But like others before him, Pettigrew warns that a surfeit of regulation risks drowning the economy’s growth prospects. The challenge is “getting the balance right”, which ICAS is weighing in on with its new “Power of One” initiative.

Launched at last month’s annual ICAS conference in Glasgow, the Power of One is billed as “rediscovering the soul of the profession”. Rather than being pressed into overlooking irregularities, accountants must take personal responsibility for standing up against unethical behaviour.

“Being a professional – in any profession – is not just about technical competency,” says Pettigrew, who is now more than half-way through his year as president of Scotland’s leading body for chartered accountants. “It is about how you go about your work, how you make judgements and your willingness to do the right thing.”

The initiative is part of a bigger drive by ICAS to better engage with members in the middle of their careers, who tend to lose touch with the organisation after gaining their qualifications. Through programmes such as “Virtual ICAS”, the group aims to stay closer to its 21,000 members, half of whom do not live or work in Scotland.

Pettigrew himself has travelled since qualifying with Arthur Young McClelland Moore in the early 1980s, moving from Glasgow to Dundee to Aberdeen to London as he worked his way through a series of industry employers. He says he relished the variety during that stretch of his career, which started with a stint at a builder’s merchant and would go on to span a variety of roles including group finance director at electronic broker ICAP, which at that time was a member of the FTSE 100.

“CA training gave me the opportunity to see how different businesses operate,” Pettigrew says. “To see how people come together in different organisations, how jobs are carried out in different settings, was fascinating for me.”

The final stop on his string of full-time appointments was an 18-month term as chief executive of CMC Markets, the spread betting firm that was in line for a FTSE listing before the credit crunch knocked plans off course. Pettigrew reportedly had a clause in his contract that allowed him to walk away if a listing was not in the offing.

He has brought his trademark verve to the president’s role at ICAS, one of a number of part-time posts that now make up his professional portfolio. Sitting in a boardroom at Glasgow’s Clydesdale Bank – where he has been chairman since August of last year – Pettigrew is constantly shifting about, as if his zeal won’t allow him to be at peace.

“I am very enthusiastic – can you tell?” It might be intended as banter, but there’s not a hint of irony, as if Pettigrew genuinely wonders whether his passion is in question.

He effusively commends the benefits of a CA qualification, so much so that there’s barely time to squeeze in a question about Clydesdale Bank, which will be spun off by its Australian owner early next year. The long-anticipated plans for an independent stock market listing were confirmed last month by National Australia Bank (NAB), and Pettigrew says he is pleased with developments to date.

“Since the day I walked into this bank I could see there was something special here, and it is exciting to unlock that,” he adds.

As it happens, representatives from NAB were among the featured speakers at a breakfast briefing a couple of weeks ago in Sydney, where ICAS has its largest contingent of members outside the UK.

It represents one of 20 “communities” around the world where ICAS is aiming to forge closer links through things like Virtual ICAS and the continuing roll-out of digital news services targeted at accountants. The group anticipates a quarter of its members will be located overseas within the next five year.

“The vision is all about building a leading global professional organisation,” says Pettigrew. “To do that, we need to make sure these communities are relevant to our members.”

30 SECOND CV

Born: Dundee, 1958

Education: Dundee High School; Aberdeen University; Glasgow University

First job: Developing film at a photo shop in Dundee

Ambition while at school: I wanted to be a sea captain

Can’t live without: Air and water

Kindle or book: Book – I just love to open a book when I go on holiday

Favourite city: Dundee

Preferred mode of transport: Boat, and specifically, paddle steamer

What car do you drive: An 18-year-old BMW 3-Series

What makes you angry: Nothing really makes me angry, but I am a great believer in always doing your best, so it’s annoying when people are not giving their best

What inspires you: Good leaders in action