Most of my work at TALTRAN Global involves me in the recruitment of talented professionals who have demonstrated their prowess through years of experience and achievement. But we all start somewhere, and I have recently learned of the death of the man who put me on the path to a career in finance and my current role. Bill Cary was a kind and generous mentor, a well-read philosopher, a creative innovator, and this is my humble tribute to him.
Bill was Senior Partner at Cary Spencer and Co, a business he started in Shoreham on the south coast of the UK, which serviced an eclectic mix of small and medium-sized clients from lawyers to construction companies. I was a young lad (18) with no direction, little discernible talent and a demeanour that might best be described as unpolished. We were introduced by a local careers advisor and it remains one of the great mysteries as to what Bill saw that made him decide to hire me.
I learnt the business from the bottom up and was guided kindly but firmly, by both Bill and his wife, Hilary, who worked in the tax department of the business. I spent weeks and months answering phones and writing up letters that he dictated to clients, before graduating to helping update the billing system and learning to do the bookkeeping for our clients. Within twelve months I was preparing year end accounts and assisting in audits.
He was a marvellous raconteur who used stories to illuminate and exemplify his approach to life. As a young partner at a decent-sized firm in London he was almost fired for wanting to introduce computers with accounting production and tax software. But defying convention and trusting in his judgement was one of Bill’s characteristics and he became the first partner to use them rather than relying on paper calculations.
This free-wheeling spirit, willingness to challenge and courage to innovate saw him breaking through other constraints in an era when the ACA and ACCA took a dim view of almost anything but pen, paper and double-entry bookkeeping. Bill had a shop front on the high street, played classic FM throughout the day and even advertised his work and business. He believed in being accessible to anyone who could benefit from good financial expertise but also in demystifying a profession that was seen as aloof and distant.
He wasn’t above using the photocopier himself but would often take the moment to spontaneously burst into recitals of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’. The opening lines – ‘If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you’ – have seen me through many tough days and meetings with relentless CEO’s, Boards and auditors. My favourite saying from Bill was, “with all things in life you are only as good as your last trick, so make sure your last trick was damn good”
It was only 12 months but even at this distance in time it feels as if he invested an extraordinary amount of his time and personal attention in me. He gave me the confidence to realize that I had potential and when his guidance meant I had outgrown the position in just one year, he wished me well with extraordinary grace and civility. We stayed in touch for the next 20 years and I was fortunate enough to have lunch with him and his family in the year before the pandemic made socializing so difficult.
I am grateful to Bill for setting me on the path to having a highly challenging and enjoyable career in Finance and eventually becoming the founder of my own business working with progressive, demanding companies who see a high-performance finance team as transformative for their business. Operating at such a sophisticated level inevitably means that there is a requirement for demonstrable levels of professional qualification and accomplishment. But we try and follow Bill’s lead in looking equally closely at the personal qualities and attributes a candidate might bring to a company and the people they work with.
It was Theodore Roosevelt who said that “character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual” and I have little doubt that Bill felt the same way. We have also found that most of our retained clients are as interested in the character of the people they appoint as the grades, exams and titles they have secured. As finance has moved from a gatekeeping, backroom function to being a driver and leader of business performance the demand for finance professionals with personality to add to their numeracy has rapidly grown.
To borrow from his love of Kipling, I can also say that Bill knew how to “fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” and had a full life where he was much loved and will be long remembered. It is a cause of great sadness that he will no longer be there for a catch up and a chat and my thoughts are with his family at this difficult time. But his passing reminds me of my good fortune in knowing him and of the values which he instilled that I hope to pass on.
16 March 2021