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Finance in the broadest sense

Business partnering, key performance indicators and the impact of information technology are often seen as relatively new considerations for finance managers. But go back to 1963 and substitute the terms ‘a playing member of the management team’, ‘yardsticks’ and ‘computer systems’ and it’s clear that we have been talking about these ideas for at least 50 years.

When researching ICAEW’s finance function framework we discovered a 1963 lecture by the deputy controller of Shell, Stanley Harding, FCA. The topics and issues he discusses resonate so closely with current day concerns that we decided to republish the lecture. It provides some sound advice for finance professionals, lays to rest the idea that business partnering is a new concept and gives us the opportunity to learn from history. Harding’s clear and concise writing style is also worth noting, although the use of the word ‘men’ to describe the entire work force will jar with the modern reader.

We are pleased to complement the lecture with some excellent additional material:

  • An interview with Simon Henry, Group CFO of Shell, which relates the lecture content to finance in Shell today.
  • A commentary by Professor Stephen Walker, Cardiff University, which discusses the economic and professional context at the time of the lecture.
  • A commentary by Professors Gudrun Baldvinsdottir, John Burns, Hanne Nørreklit and Robert Scapens which considers how business partnering developed after the lecture, with a focus on the 1980s and 1990s.

Harding was deputy controller at Shell when he delivered his lecture. It was attended by around 200 ICAEW Chartered Accountants as part of an ICAEW summer school held at Emanuel College, Cambridge. In 1938, at the age of 23, Harding took a job with Eagle Oil in Argentina, which was subsequently acquired by the Royal Dutch Shell Group. His finance career was interrupted by his service in the RAF during the Second World War. Over his 20 year career at Shell he had a number of senior finance roles in South America, including finance director of Shell Brazil. He took up the deputy controller role at Head Office in 1957, a role which also included significant overseas travel. He left Shell in 1965 to become finance director of the Tillings Group, which grew significantly during his 12-year tenure. Subsequently he held a number of non-executive director roles.

From the lecture and his unpublished draft autobiography it is clear that Harding had wide ranging opinions on how businesses should be managed and how the accounting profession should develop. He was also a keen sportsman and captained a large London golf club during his retirement.

We are very grateful to his son Richard Harding, also an ICAEW Chartered Accountant, and his daughter, Wendy Thomas, for providing additional material, giving us permission to re-publish the lecture and their overall support for the project. Our thanks also go to Simon Henry and the Shell Group for their input and financial support and to Stephen Walker and Gudrun Baldvinsdottir, John Burns, Hanne Nørreklit and Robert Scapens for investing their valuable time in writing their commentaries.

Anyone with an interest in developing effective finance functions, the role of finance managers or business history will enjoy reading this publication. As ever we are always interested in any feedback or comments you may have – please email rick.payne@icaew.com.

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