Black History Month: the Reynolds family of chartered accountants
23 October 2020: The Reynolds are something of an accountancy dynasty stretching back to the 1950s. Two of the family tell ICAEW Insights editor Tom Herbert about their stellar careers in England and Jamaica, and the prejudices they encountered and overcame.
In a wide-ranging interview spanning more than 60 years of accountancy history, Donna E Reynolds and her uncle Donald S Reynolds, discussed their respective careers, and that of Lancelot F Reynolds, Donna’s father and Donald’s brother, who sadly passed away in 2008.
The family have enjoyed tremendous success in their chosen profession in the UK, their native Jamaica and across the globe. However, some of the experiences that came up in conversation illustrate that here in the UK, although accountancy and the wider business world have made progress in tackling racial prejudice, there is still a long way to go.
Lancelot Reynolds CD, FCA, FCA(UK), CTA, JP
Born in Jamaica, early life in the inner city was not a deterrent for Lancelot who began his career at the Jamaica Omnibus Services. He left the Caribbean in 1956 to complete his accounting qualifications in the UK, serving his five-year articles at a small, family-run firm. But as his brother points out, this very nearly wasn’t the case.
“He was the first black man at the firm. Because he was black, they held a vote to ask all employees whether he should be allowed to work there. All the gentlemen – including some of the partners and senior staff at the time – said no, but all the ladies voted yes, so he was allowed in.”
Donna cites the family firm where the two brothers qualified as a huge support in the early days of their career. “I remember my father was doing an audit where the client called the next day and said, ‘I don’t want a black man doing my audit.’ To his credit, the partner stood firm and he did go back, and the funny thing is my father and the client became good friends in the end.”
After becoming a chartered accountant, Lancelot moved to Price Waterhouse & Company, before returning to Jamaica in 1965 to join Deloitte & Touché as an Audit Supervisor and rose to become a partner in less than five years.
In 1973, he left practice to join the Jamaica National Building Society, where he became General Manager and Director. Under his stewardship, the society grew to the largest building society in the Caribbean, and the first Jamaican-based financial institution to offer remittance services in the United Kingdom. He retired in 1999.
A Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales and of the Institute of Taxation (UK), Lancelot was also a past President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica and was awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander for rendering outstanding and important services to the government and People of Jamaica.
Donald Reynolds CD, FCA, FCA (UK)
Taking a slightly different route to his brother, Donald Reynolds started in accountancy with KPMG in Jamaica, then in 1965 “packed his bags and forgot the cold” to move to London, where he spent four years working for the same family firm as his brother.
These he describes as some of the most interesting years of his life. “There were 30 of us,” he said, “and we were a real United Nations, coming from several countries. I made a lot of friends with whom I’ve maintained contact to this day.”
Donald remembers there being prejudice from clients towards him – at the time black accountants were very much in the minority in the UK profession – but had the self-confidence not to let it affect him. He puts this down to coming from Jamaica to England, and not having grown up in a system which discriminates based on the colour of your skin.
“We were lucky in a sense,” he said. “Where I come from doesn’t have a problem with black people, so we don’t have the problem of being discriminated against since birth.”
He returned to Jamaica in 1971 with Deloitte and Touché where he became partner in 1977, eventually rising to Country Managing Partner and Chairman of the Board. He also sat for many years on the Council of the ICA Jamaica, where he was President from 1987 to 1989.
Donald was recently awarded the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander by the Government of Jamaica for exceptional service in the field of accountancy and significant contribution to public and private sector development.
Since retiring in 2006, he has used his time and talent to benefit a number of charities, including the North Street United Education Development Foundation, which offers university and high school scholarships to marginalised children in West Kingston, the Scouts Association of Jamaica, the Rotary Club of Kingston, which he served as president and his church, North Street United in downtown Kingston.
Speaking to ICAEW Insights from his home in Jamaica, Donald urged black accountants to become a role model for those coming next. “If you show how you can succeed as a black accountant, you can really influence the next generation,” he said. “Make sure you get good training. I recommend joining a smaller firm with good training facilities and to get a broad base of experience. Don’t get pushed anywhere. Say to your employers, ‘I have a plan’ and get them to buy into that plan.
“Decide that your colour is not going to stop you from doing what you want to do. Represent yourself, your family, all the people who had to go through difficulties in the past to get you where you are.”
Donna Reynolds ACA, BA(Hons)
Born in Jamaica, Donna continued her father Lancelot’s legacy by moving to England to study accountancy at the University of Canterbury. After qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1994 at the same firm her father and uncle had during their time in the UK, she continued to work in audit.
Although the level of prejudice faced by black accountants was less overt than during her father and uncle’s time in the UK, Donna points out that it was still just below the surface. “Back in the mid-90s, I was a senior audit manager on an audit with a young white trainee. The client constantly referred to the trainee as the lead and looked to them for answers. It wasn’t a disaster, but it’s just another example of the type of thing you have to constantly manage, and sometimes still have to put up with. It’s toned down, but it’s still present.”
In 1998, Donna joined Save the Children, where she travelled the world working in several different roles for the charity. Starting in financial management, she moved to policy where she worked with finance directors, before ending up in systems implementation.
Donna now works as a specialist in training materials and systems implementation, running her own consultancy creating learning tools to teach and embed working with new processes and systems.
Unlike her father and uncle, Donna remained in the UK and did not return to Jamaica. “I had planned to go home, but it didn’t quite work out,” she joked. Speaking from this perspective, she believes people of colour still need to be tough to survive in UK accountancy.
“You have to learn how to handle rejections and the prejudices some people have – conscious or unconscious – and manage that in a way that allows you to be self-confident,” she said. “To this day, I’m often the only black person in the room, sometimes the only woman in the room. I’m almost unconsciously scanning, asking myself ‘who’s the one that is going to ignore me, who is going to be difficult’? Some days it’s fine, some days it’s exhausting.”
Further reading and resources
ICAEW's first Black History Month Virtual Summit on 26 October will feature some exceptional speakers from the fields of government, accountancy, HR and academia.
Please sign up to this free event here.