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Spotlight: Clive Bawden

ICAEW Birmingham and West Midlands president features in November 2019 issue of Economia

Clive Bawden

Warwick Music COO and president of ICAEW’s West Midlands Society Clive Bawden tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how he’s trying to change the world through music – and skateboarding. 

Never look at the trombones,” the great German composer and conductor Richard Strauss is often credited as saying. “It only encourages them.” But Clive Bawden is helping to motivate young people to do just that. So how do you interest children in playing a trombone, when it’s heavy, expensive, easily damaged and difficult for small hands to hold? 

Answer: you make it out of renewable plastic. “Our mission is to give every child in the world the opportunity to play an instrument,” says Bawden, chief operating officer at Warwick Music. “Our plastic trombone does that. It’s not a toy, it’s a real trombone, but lightweight, much easier to hold – and much cheaper than a brass one.” 

The pBone, as it is known, has proved a winner, with upwards of 250,000 sales to students and teachers in more than 20 countries. Warwick Music recently won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Innovation and The Spectator’s Regional Award for Economic Disruptor of the Year. “That’s fantastic, but it’s all about giving the joy of music to children who would never otherwise get that chance,” says Bawden. “Even if kids do pick up a brass instrument, it’s so heavy they play it pointing downwards. Trombones are meant to project, point upwards – you can do that with a plastic one, which makes it easier, with a better sound, and encourages them to keep playing.” Bawden was invited to join Warwick Music by founder Steven Greenall 18 months ago. The role could have been made for him, combining his own classical music background – a talented cellist and double bass player in his youth, and more recently finance trustee at the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – with business knowhow from his ACA training.

“I quickly realised accountancy could teach me about business and open doors,” he says. Bawden got a placement at “a small firm called KPMG”, adding: “I enjoyed it and I learned a huge amount, but after three years I knew there was life outside.” He moved on to become international auditor at automotive distribution company Inchcape, and then to building firm Jewson, just before it was taken over by French giant Saint-Gobain. “Because I could speak French – and hopefully for other reasons too – they kept me on.” At Saint-Gobain, Bawden developed the company’s online business. “I moved from finance to IT to marketing, which was a great learning experience. But this was a huge company and I wanted to make more of an impact. I wasn’t ready to leap out on my own so joined [corporate finance advisers] Catalyst. It was a jump from a company of 12,000 employees to one of seven, but the founders had a vision I bought into.” 

Bawden’s business development role helped build Catalyst to a 55-strong team with 20 international partner firms. “I learned how to do more with less in a recession, to create opportunities without a big budget. I eventually resigned having achieved what I was brought in to do, proud but knowing the job was done.” Bawden left Catalyst in 2013 “with nothing to go to except a vague idea my skills could be used in many different ways”. His wife Marie, also an accountant, had just been offered the CEO role at neuro-care charity Castel Froma and with a then nine-year-old daughter, “it didn’t make sense to keep getting the 6.32am train and getting home late”.

So he took a mix of different opportunities, paid and voluntary. “I keep the bills paid and I’m challenged every day of the week, making the most of my skills and experience while learning things for my future.” As well as his corporate finance roles, Bawden is also an elected member of ICAEW’s Council and current president of the Institute’s West Midlands Society. But arguably his most eye-catching position is as a founder member, overseeing finance, risk and governance, of the national governing body for skateboarding. “I have never skateboarded,” he says, “and probably never will. But skateboarding debuts at the Tokyo Olympics next year and I answered an ad to help set up a national infrastructure around the sport. “There are 750,000 skateboarders in this country, many of them kids who do no other sport. I like the idea of keeping them engaged and the challenge of creating something from nothing. It’s taken two years of voluntary time, but we’ve just employed a CEO, set up a national championship and now have five Olympic triallists. It’s fantastically rewarding.”

Bawden is committed to offering young people opportunity – which brings us back to the pBone. “It’s all about giving more for less, just giving kids a chance to discover something new.” And the same could be said of him. “When a careers teacher told me at 15 ‘just do the things you enjoy’, I was frustrated. I wanted to know what to study to get me from A to B. Through serendipity I’ve focused on doing things that excite and interest me. That teacher was a genius.”

The account

I like being an ACA because… I remember how tough the exams were, but how worth it in the end.

I’m happiest when… The coffee is brewing in the morning.

My favourite book is… Mountain High – Europe’s 50 Greatest Cycle Climbs.

The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is… You can’t win every pitch, especially the ones you want to win.

I’d like to be remembered as… Someone who got stuck in and did things.

The love of my life is… My wife and daughter (and in joint second place, Somerset County Cricket Club and Shostakovich).

Article first published in economia, 15 November 2019