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Meet the Great British Bake Off accountants

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In an AccountingWEB exclusive, we caught up with this year’s GBBO number-crunching contestants.

17th Dec 2020
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A chat with Hermine

“I just applied on the whim,” Benin-born baker Hermine told AccountingWEB of her time in the tent.

At the time, she never dreamed she’d be baking alongside judges Paul Hollywood and Pru Leith on the screens of almost 7m viewers.

“It was just random – I didn’t even think anyone would get back to me,” she said.

But her application led to a temporary new life in the competition’s Covid-proof biosphere. She brought along her 10-year-old son and “number one cheerleader” as her accomplice in the Bake Off bubble. 

Hermine
© 2020 Love Productions

Baking has always been a big part of Hermine’s life – she made her first cake when she was just eight years old. But it wasn’t until she made the move to London that her real passion for baking began. 

Unable to find the light, fresh, fluffy cream cakes of her childhood in England, she took matters into her own hands: “I thought I’d like to replicate what I grew up eating and that’s how it started.”

From those beginnings her bakes blossomed into the marvellous creations we saw during her time in the competition: “I just moved on to trying more complicated things just because I fancied them and I wanted to eat them,” Hermine told AccountingWEB.

“When I go back to Paris, the first thing I do is drive to the bakery,” she said with a laugh. “I’m like a child in a candy shop!”

Alongside her work as a credit controller, Hermine’s baking has become a liberating and therapeutic experience. “It’s almost like painting. When you sit there and you’re decorating a biscuit, it requires a lot of concentration. You’re no longer following a recipe – you have an idea that you’re trying to bring to life. It becomes a way to escape from the seriousness of life in general, not just work.”

Her accounting career has a similar element of chance. After completing her degree in banking and finance during the financial crisis in 2008, she started working as a credit controller and is now studying for her ACCA qualifications.

She finds all facets of the profession fascinating, especially tax and audit, but is not sure yet where her career will her. She will, however, continue to indulge her passion for baking alongside work.

“For me, baking is an outlet, it’s a joy to do… Having baked for so long through the competition, I couldn’t do that as a day job,” she said.

“Some people ask me when are you opening your patisserie, and I’m like ‘I can’t get up at 4 o’clock in the morning and start shaping croissants'.”

Nevertheless, her enthusiasm for baking and accounting share some of the same ingredients: “If you’re baking you’ve got to have good time management, you’ve got to have good problem solving skills because things are going to go wrong and you’ve got to think on your feet and be able to fix things quickly,” Hermine explained,

“You need precision and measuring – I think that accounting has a lot of similarities in the skills that you will need.”

A firm favourite throughout the competition, Hermine’s semi-final departure from the tent surprised many viewers, accountants included. But her whatever-will-be philosophy uplifted the hearts of her fans: “Whether you stayed a week or two or three or more, it is still an opportunity that thousands of people apply for,” she said. “To make it to the tent is an achievement.

“Baking and accounting are not incompatible. You can have a serious job and be a serious person and have hobbies and things that you enjoy and want to share with the world and that’s okay. So go and try things!”

A chat with Makbul 

When Bolton-based management accountant Makbul applied for the competition, “Covid was just another scientific word nobody had heard of”, he told AccountingWEB.

A few months later he found himself in the biosphere bubble with Hermine and all the other bakers. 

“I was very casual about it,” Makbul said, describing his long history of on-and-off baking as. “something I just do”.

The self-taught baker adores pastry, but tends to avoid over-the-top decoration: “I hate wastage – I won’t just bake just to throw it in the bin. There needs to be someone to eat it afterwards.”

Makbul
© 2020 Love Productions

Makbul’s casual approach to baking is mirrored in his accounting career: “Fortunately my job isn’t that stressful,” he said of his role with the housing association Bolton at Home. “It’s got its roots well within the community, it’s a very people orientated company – they give you lots of support.”

After completing an accounting degree, Makbul joined an agency and built up experience until he found his permanent roles in management accounting. He now does month and year-end work and accounting for repair and maintenance of capital assets.

As an easy-going spirit, and with his own practice to remote-worry about, Makbul admitted he didn’t spend as much time in the tent as the ultimate winner, accountancy student Peter Sawkins. “We had a business to sustain and the day job to do,” on top of family responsibilities, he explained.

“I did give it a good shot – it was really good to be in the tent. It was something that has been a wonderful experience.”

Makbul reflected that his kitchen skills provide an outlet to his career, giving an immense satisfaction from achieving good bakes and feeding his friends and family.

Accounting and baking are harmonious for Makbul: “You have to be methodical – you need to have your routines and your steps in place.  There is a method and a process to do, and there is an end result where you have to make sure everything works out, and all the ingredients – and numbers – are used up.”

His calm demeanor and relaxed approach extends across both passions; as someone who rarely gets stressed, it was easy for him to remain level-headed in the tent.

“I rarely get emotionally attached to the work that I’m doing,” Makbul said. “Ultimately it’s just a profession, it’s just a task. It’s not life or death. If it went wrong, keep a level head, sort it out and then move on.”

Much to the heartbreak of many viewers, Makbul’s time in the tent was short, but he knew that an accountant was set to win the competition: “I always knew it was between Peter and Hermine. Me and Lottie called it.”

Calling the pair meticulous and focused, Makbul he reflects: “I was looking at it and thinking, ‘It’s only a biscuit, let’s get it done.’”

But the baking management accountant has other talents too: he just finished his first novel and keeps bees in his spare time. He uses their honey in many of his bakes.

Whatever skill one uses in the world, Makbul advised trying to make a positive contribution to other people’s wellbeing, even if it wasn’t through cakes: “Not everyone likes baking!”

“My advice to accountants is to keep a perspective on things,” Makbul told AccountingWEB. “It’s only a job and your life mustn’t suffer.”

With all the uncertainty in the world right now, baking has brought so many some crumbs of comfort during a stressful time. As Makbul said: “We just have to persevere in this life we’ve got.”

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A Putey FACA
By Arthur Putey
17th Dec 2020 19:22

I often fantasise (perhaps that's abit too strong but put it in an accountant's perspective) about a reality TV show featuring accountants. Aside from lion taming on BGT, wouldn't it be fantastic if Ant and Dec hosted "I'm an Accountant Get Me Out Of Here". Imagine the tension as the contenders are asked to carry out arduous trials to find hidden vouchers and bank statements and then have to prepare a set of accounts from incomplete records against the clock.

But cooking is much more fun, unless it is the books. Well done to the two of them for getting involved!

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