In the hotseat - Morris: from minor to major

The ICAEW is getting a president from a small practice background, just in time for the consolidation vote. Ian Morris tells Chris Quick what will motivate his year in office.

When the ICAEW council elected Ian Morris as vice president two years ago - setting in train his progression to president this year - it cannot have known that his watch would include a historic members' vote to integrate CIPFA into the institute.

Although it didn't know it then, the council may have unknowingly pulled off a masterstroke of good timing in the same way that it did back in 2000 by making PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Peter Wyman vice-president, meaning that this presidency spanned the tumultuous 2002-2003 post-Enron year.

Wyman was well-equipped with the political nous, schmoozing skills and energy to lobby and influence international governments and regulators at a time when such attributes were critical.

But his big firm background would have been more of a handicap in a year such as this one with the institute trying to gain support among members for its consolidation strategy.

What could be more fortuitous, then, than a pro-consolidation president from the small practice sector to help persuade small practice members - those most likely to oppose consolidation and be suspicious of the big firms - that it is not such a bitter pill?

Council members must be congratulating themselves once again on their unintended presience in getting the right man in the right place at the right time.

Morris, who officially takes over the reins from predecessor Paul Druckman on 8 June, is in fact only the second president to come from the small practice sector for over 20 years. Michael Groom, president for the 2001-2002 year, was a sole practitioner and lecturer. Before that, the last one was Harry Singer of Singer & Partners in 1981-1982.

Morris qualified in 1960 with Chester firm E Noel Humphreys & Co. Three years later he was a salaried partner, and in July 1966 - the same month that England won the Football World Cup - he became an equity partner.

He left nine years later to set up his own practice, with seven staff and £14,000 of income. He describes this move as 'challenging', which is probably something of an understatement. But the bold move paid off.

'We are now 15 partners and rather more income than that,' he says as he describes his firm's subsequent expansion in Chester, Shrewsbury and the surrounding areas of the Marches - much of it by acquisition. Altogether, the practices now have around 120 staff, and Morris, who is nearing retirement, is both senior partner of Chester-based Morris & Co and a partner at Turner Peachey in Shrewsbury.

He has four grown-up children and lives with his wife in a farmhouse right on the Welsh border. The house is in England but the orchard in Wales, he says. He has a keen interest in music, regularly playing the organ at his local church and as a member of Chester Music Society. He sang a duet from Haydn's Creation at his youngest daughter's wedding last year. 'Much against my better judgment. If you go to the church service this year you will hear it sung properly.'

On top of all this, Morris, who is 67, has long been involved in the ICAEW in his local area since very early in his career. In 1978 he become president of the Liverpool District Society, and was elected to council in 1984.

The dominating issue

The success of his business shows that Morris clearly knows a thing or two about running a successful accountancy practice, and he says he hopes to bring an understanding of small practice issues to the table in the year ahead, in particular the challenges that they face. He was involved in the discussions about the new Audit Ethics Standards last year, and was responsible for highlighting some of the practical difficulties the proposals discussed presented to small practitioners.

But the issue that will dominate his presidency is consolidation; the vote to integrate CIPFA in the autumn and the ongoing negotiations with CIMA which the institute's top brass hope will lead to further consolidation of the UK's accountancy institutes in the future.

Morris's views on the subject in fact go a lot further than many involved in pro-consolidation campaigning. He believes that all the major UK accountancy bodies - including ICAS and, controversially, the ACCA- should eventually be involved. He even moots the idea of the Chartered Institute of Taxation joining in: 'I have always believed in consolidation and I think it will come in time whether it is forced on us by government or by natural evolution.'

He adds: 'If you look at the accountancy profession in the UK it should have merged years and years ago. If you look at the current position I don't think the CCAB (the umbrella body of the six major UK institutes) is as effective as one body would be. It's not just influence with the UK government, it's influence in Europe and it's influence internationally.

And it is very difficult to actually get six different bodies with different agendas to all say the same thing at the same time.'

Teamwork and communication

Getting people to pull in the same direction at the same time is something that Morris regards as critical. One of the few personal possessions sitting on his office at the institute is a picture showing several illustrations of two donkeys roped together, sitting between two bales of hay. With the caption 'Teamwork!' it shows that if they pull in different directions they can't get any hay, but if they cooperate, they can get to the bales and munch to their heart's content.

'If members of the institute, staff and other people involved can all find a way of overcoming differences, of identifying that which is ultimately in the members' interests but also in the public interest, and there is progress in that direction, then I won't be that grumpy at the end of the year.'

He adds: 'If people start getting grumpy in all sorts of areas - if people are not pulling in the same direction, then that is very frustrating.'

Morris also emphasises the issue of communication. When it comes to such things, he seems more of an old school sit-down-and-have-a-chat breed rather than an in-your-face campaigner.

Institute members who oppose consolidation - or indeed any other institute strategy - are likely to be invited for a chat in which Morris will look for common ground.

'If there is understanding, then it's likely that you will end up moving in the same direction,' he says.

Indeed, Morris puts down many of the institute's problems and challenges to the communication issue.

'Communication has to be two-way. With a membership of 127,000 it is very difficult for the centre to communicate and it is difficult for the individual member to communicate with the centre.'

With the consolidation vote looming, Morris's communication skills are set to be put to the test over the coming months.

One of Ian Morris's early tasks as ICAEW president will be to open its annual conference, accountancy2005, on 28 June.

This year's conference is particularly special as it marks the 125th anniversary of the institute. To mark the occasion, the event will this year be held at the institute's historic headquarters at Moorgate Place in London.

The agenda, however, is forward-looking. The day will include a finance director panel session with top FDs discussing the challenges they face.

Chartered accountant entrepreneur Karan Bilimoria, founder of Cobra Beer and the winner of this year's prestigious ICAEW award for outstanding achievement (see Accountancy, May, p16), will share his insights on creating and developing a successful business. Among the other top speakers is Graham Ward, president of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), who will look at the future of the accountancy profession.

Paul Druckman's last president's page, p119

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