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Raab and Johnson: New role models for accountants


Over the past week, Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson have provided numerous lessons from which we accountants may benefit.

25th Aug 2021
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Sometimes, accountants can get so wrapped up in their own activities that they ignore the outside world. Frequently, by casting the net more widely we can learn much about perfecting our personal performance and organisation’s operations.

Over the last year and longer, there have been innumerable articles in the accountancy press about work/life balance.

At one end of the scale sit those who believe working from home means dossing around. Their polar opposites are the workaholics who worry that by only working 24/7, they are letting clients down.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the ideal solution lies somewhere in between.

Given that our country’s leaders are typically highly motivated, Oxbridge-educated and have the best advisers that money can buy (plus Dominic Cummings), it seems reasonable to assume by following their lead we might become the kind of people who can run successful accountancy practices, if not necessarily countries.

Without wishing to diminish the awful crisis that is developing in Afghanistan, if you were a government minister with a foreign affairs portfolio, this might be compared to an accountant with a major client that is about to be the subject of a hostile takeover and desperately needs all the help it can get.

The phantom phone call

What would you do in this situation? If press reports are to be believed - a big ask but probably not unreasonable in this case - Dominic Raab apparently not only happily went on holiday but also refused to take phone calls and delegated the crisis to an unfortunate junior minister, who didn’t even make a critical phone call.

Drawing a parallel, if your client was panicking in the midst of that hostile multi-billion-pound takeover, she would probably not feel that grateful if the partner on the job asked the audit manager to get in touch, perhaps explaining that you were sunning yourself on a Greek island. If the audit manager didn’t bother to return the call, that might be a dismissible offence.

However, to give him credit, the foreign secretary did what so many of us fail to do - he drew a line in the sand and let go for a few valuable days to recharge his batteries.

From bitter experience, we all know that once the audit manager calls the important client or, worse doesn’t, the client’s next step might be a call to the managing partner.

In this case, rather than an MP there’s a PM. Heroically, knowing that Kabul was about to fall in days, Boris Johnson had no qualms about leaving for holiday on Saturday, making disaster even more likely. Once again, he is to be commended for letting go, even if the timing was disastrous.

Parade of poor judgement

To extend the analogy a little further, few are likely to argue with the proposition that no practice will benefit from criticism laid down by former leading lights who seem to have forgotten that they left under something of a cloud following embarrassing errors of judgement of their own. That is how many will view the recent pronouncements on this issue from Tony Blair and Donald Trump.

What are the main lessons that partners or directors of businesses can derive from this sad story?

The first one is that even the leaders of states need a break and are willing to take one. The second is that timing is all.

There is no way any columnist should suggest that accountants defer their holidays in order to help out key clients, however significant a deal might be.

These days though, it may be prudent to keep the phone turned on and accept that while sunning yourself poolside it may be necessary to provide the kind of advice that every client needs in a crisis.

Secondly, there is often more to delegation than delegating. In the kind of scenario that we are envisaging, the partner on the case needs an alternate who will impress the client. That might mean a senior member of the team whom she knows well and trusts, a partner of equal standing or quite possibly a member of the organisation’s management committee, perhaps even the managing partner himself or herself.

The other lesson that might be rather harder to take but is a fact of life is that sometimes your colleagues will leave you in an impossible position. Many might argue that that is exactly what Joe Biden did to Boris Johnson, although others will suggest that our man should have been far better prepared for a problem that had been flagged 18 months previously.

We have all been there when those running a practice have forced us to take action or accept decisions that seem plain wrong. The responses can only really be to a) take collective responsibility and refrain from criticism, b) make it clear that you disagree and accept the consequences, c) start looking for a new job, or d) start a coup and unseat the CEO or managing partner.

We can only hope that somehow the personal hell that so many in Afghanistan are currently anticipating will not transpire. That is beyond our control; learning from others’ mistakes is not.

Replies (3)

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paddle steamer
26th Aug 2021 15:12

I suspect they both have failed to appreciate that taking the position comes with the possibility of 24/7, 365 days.

All I do is co manage a small property group, hardly their territory, but even my holidays can require dealing with calls and e mails , it is why (amongst other things) I get paid what I get paid, and it works as it is only re important matters that the office/my employers will interrupt my break.

It is the same with my days off, today and tomorrow officially I do not work, but if something happens I know, and my employer knows, I will make myself available.

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By petersaxton
27th Aug 2021 09:41

I'm always of the view that the person left in charge while the boss is away should be able to deal with the matter.
What would the underling be expected to do? Phone the president of Afghanistan and say: "Stop the Taliban from taking over"?

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By Hubert236
02nd Sep 2021 10:26

Thanks for the solution, It worked just fine for me as well!

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