Apprentice loser wins for EQ – what’s the story?

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Lesley Stalker
Tax partner
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Accountants need an image overhaul because the role we fill has changed, explains Lesley Stalker.

Although we are now well into the current series, cast your mind back to earlier in May when accountant Edward Hunter received the dubious honour of being the first person fired from The Apprentice... for extreme incompetence, let’s face it. He was spectacularly off the mark when it came to doing the cost analysis required for Lord Sugar’s food business task.
But while Hunter scored points mainly for his striking looks and charisma, (we love the blue eyes) most accountants, sadly, do the opposite. Much as we like to pretend otherwise, accountants tend to be true to that old stereotype and are a pretty dry bunch.

The focus of our work is on achieving technical excellence, acquiring knowledge, passing exams and then advising clients on how to run their businesses so as to maximise their profits. Those clients and, if we are being really honest, the world at large, see us as aloof and intellectual. And as a profession, we have struggled to change that image. Edward Hunter might not have done much to promote our reputation for technical excellence, but he’s obviously a very colourful character and in that sense, just what the profession needs to change its image.

Increasingly our work requires us to move away from a pure focus on technical excellence and build stronger client relationships; and this undoubtedly requires greater emotional intelligence.

What is EQ?

Sociologists reckon that only around 20% of a person’s success results from his or her Intelligence Quotient (IQ) - a measure of an individual’s ability to learn, understand, and reason.

They now believe that the remaining 80% depends on his or her Emotional Quotient (EQ), which measures the ability to relate to others, understand oneself, and to usefully direct one’s emotions. That alone is a good enough reason to read on.

Lesley Stalker is head of Tax at Robert James Partnership (RJP), a firm specialising in high growth businesses.

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02nd Jun 2011 12:52

Emotional Intelligence

If I had all of the above I would not chose to be an accountant. I could have enhanced these skills by spending my time down in the local pub rather than trying to pass my exams so I could get a good job which paid well rather than drawing the dole. The final sentance is what I told the last person who said my people skills were poor.

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02nd Jun 2011 15:59


This is one of the most depressing articles I have read for a long time. And yet it is all very familiar. An anti-intellectual rant designed to push us all further down the road of bad spelling, incorrect grammar and half-baked advice to clients who deserve better from the profession. I for one will not abandon my standards of intellectual rigour.

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02nd Jun 2011 16:13


The "grey" stereotype is something we have avoided for 40 years. Seems like we are finally coming into fashion :)

The main "ornament" in our reception is a 1000cc motorbike which I used to race - chromed, cleaned, and mounted on a stand. I've always insisted that every member of staff is on first name terms with everyone else, including me. We have never had a dress code, indeed today there isnt a tie or jacket to be seen. 

I set up in practice to get away from pointless "rules" and I see no reason why I should then impose any on staff. 

We wwere once described as having more in common with a hippie commune than with the "normal" firm - and as far as I am concerned that was a tremendous compliment. We like it, our clients like it, and I really couldnt care less whether anyone else approves or not. 


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03rd Jun 2011 11:09

Getting on with Clients

I don't believe this emotional intelligence stuff can be taught. You are either remote and stuffy, friendly and approachable, or something in between. Personality is very difficult to change.

In the accountancy profession just being friendly and approachable is no good on its own and we are having to spend more time getting educated in larger volumes of legislation so we don't get sued for prof negligence and we give a good service. Good clients will pay for a good service, and want to pay the least amount of tax. If we are friendly and helpful, so much the better, but the knowledge comes before the personality bit.

Over the years I have noted that we are being ground down by the regulatory requirements/ HMRC's attitude towards us and my attitude is increasingly about covering my rear end. The work of book-keeping/accountancy is no longer suitable for those who aren't well educated and nit-picking types, what with the threat of HMRC trying to get rid of us, and clients suing for professional negligence, so it is no wonder that we attract many practitioners devoid of people skills.

I note that there are still plenty of practitioners with good personalities - they are the ones posting on Aweb.

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03rd Jun 2011 11:38

What really counts on The Apprentice, and in business?

With all the focus on Edward's feelings about being an accountant, and his sad failure to explain what went through his mind as he worked through the fruit task, it is easy to think that his social skills were the main weakness. They were pretty weak.

However, this isn't necessarily the key to performance on tasks or even at work. This week the team that was the most acrimonious won. The week before the most acrimonious team lost, but only by £8.

Technical skill matters.

In Edward's case he had some technical weaknesses that proved costly. He could easily work out numbers for profit, costs, and so on. The arithmetic was easy. His problem was that he knew all the numbers were ill-informed guesswork and he didn't know how to deal with that.

As an auditor at PwC he wouldn't have much practical experience of that situation. When I think back to my exams as an ACA (a long time ago) there was nothing much on using numbers when you don't have facts.

Only now, decades later, having written two books on dealing with uncertainty at work, including 'A pocket guide to risk mathematics', I think I know something about the topic that's helpful!

Towards the end of the last series I wrote about the role of uncertainty in Apprentice tasks, with lessons for real life summarised as 'golden rules'. I hope some of you like it:


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03rd Jun 2011 11:43

Another load of codology

So in thousands of words, your correspondent is saying what should be quite obvious to most people; that one should be a decent human being rather than concentrating on being a techical "accountant". Thats because being an accountant is based on an archiac value system, one which values the system of "getting on" and being "goal orientated" rather than having relationships, ethics and morals at its core.

The more this society breaks down, the more these values of "getting on" will be questioned and the more people get into trouble through expenses "tricks", tax avoidance and tax evasion, the more a return to older values will be required, whereby relationships with others will become highly prized and valued.

But surely we dont need a lecture on EQ to know all of that anyway.



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By agyengo
03rd Jun 2011 12:36

Technical expertise comes first

In as much as we should be 'emotionally intelligent', techincal expertise should ALWAYS come first. As accountants,we are hired to do things our clients believe can make their businesses better. We can only satisfy them if we have the intellect to provide the services they require in an expert manner.                                                                                Of what use will our profession be if we all become 'emotionally intelligent' but cannot provide the level of performance our clients and the larger society expect of us, like Mr. Hunter.

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03rd Jun 2011 16:33

As I said before

The only kind of emotional intelligence one needs here is an intelligence not to encourage clients to bury their profits in the Cayman Islands or Monaco, thereby reducing the changes of HMRC getting their hands on taxes which rightfully belong in this country. Neither should we be encouraging people to break the law by money laundering, or assisting them to do so.

But I still dont see why we need an EQ coach to assist us in these endeavours anyway. This is something that should be obvious to the most elementary of AAT trainees, let alone being spelt out to those of us who have forgotten how many qualifications we have obtained. As I said before, there's a bit of codology occuring here.

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04th Jun 2011 14:49

Ok - I'm old fashioned - but EQ is a fancy term for growing up.

The problem is that nowdays kids go to school, then to university, then they think they can do anything, just because they have a bit of paper that proves they are slightly more intelligent than a pickled gerkin.

Maybe it's time we brought back national service, stuck every 18 year old in the army for a couple of years, and made them grow up. 



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03rd Aug 2011 17:25

More on the technical skills of dealing with uncertainty

Just to follow up on my posting earlier, if you're interested in how you personally might do in Apprentice tasks, I've set up a short 'test' with imaginary Apprentice scenarios and some simple questions. Have a go. It's the first test on the list here:

I am including the results in my ongoing research into how people deal with uncertainty at work, but it's anonymous of course. Once a number of people have tackled these scenarios I'll be able to post statistics on what people usually think, as well as giving my own advice.


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