Notable Alumni - John Ormerod

John Ormerod
Accountancy Conversion Course, Westminster College, 1971


An Oxford physics graduate, John Ormerod joined accountancy giant Arthur Andersen immediately from college. He was managing partner at the time of the Enron scandal – an experience he describes as the most challenging but also the most fascinating of his working life. Since retiring from the profession, he has been a non-exec director and trustee of a wide range of organisations.
 

John's links with LSBU date back to the hot summer of 1971. Already a trainee at Arthur Andersen, he enrolled on a three-month graduate conversion course at the then Westminster College. “The firm set great store by the quality of our training,” he says. “I know the teaching at Westminster was of a very high standard, because Andersen wouldn’t have accepted anything less.”

This marked the start of what was to prove a long association with Andersen, at the time the one of the “Big Eight” accountancy firms worldwide. “I was there over 30 years – clearly I’ve got no staying power!” he jokes. During the course of his career, John worked with some of the company’s biggest clients, with a particular focus on telecoms, media and technology. 

By 2001, he had risen to become regional managing partner for the UK and Ireland, responsible for strategy, performance, people and growth. Then came the Enron scandal. The US energy giant was found to have been falsifying its accounts and Andersen’s US arm, which acted as auditor, was dragged through the courts. Although the ruling against Andersen was subsequently overturned, the damage to the company’s reputation was too great, and it effectively folded in 2002. 

“It was undoubtedly the most challenging time in my career but, with hindsight, I can also see that it was one of the most interesting,” says John, who went on to oversee the transfer of some 3,000 Andersen staff and partners to a former rival firm, Deloitte. “I learned so much. First, never underestimate the power of a good team. Despite the stress and the personal uncertainty, the way the team stayed focused on our clients was incredible. And second, failure doesn’t have to be the end of the road. It can also be an opportunity.”

John makes the point that, while the corporate entity that was Andersen could not continue in its existing form, the business – the expertise and experience of the staff, and their relationships with clients – could and did continue to thrive. John himself was appointed partner at Deloitte but by this stage he admits that he was starting to think about a change of pace and a new challenge and in 2004 he announced his retirement. 

This is not retirement in the conventional sense of the word, though. It’s exhausting just reading the list of organisations for which John has acted as non-executive director or trustee in the past nine years, which includes the Walbrook Group, Misys, the London Business School, the Design Museum, Transport for London and the Roundhouse Trust. He currently sits on the board at Tribal, a global provider of products and services to the international education market as well as Computacenter, ITV and Gemalto. 

“Having any kind of professional career is incredibly demanding,” John says. “An executive role uses up your time and emotional energy, and doesn’t leave much time for wider creativity. Now, I have a different work pattern, and a different set of priorities. The focus is on sharing my experience rather than on putting in the hours.”

Nevertheless, this new world is in many ways just as competitive and demanding as the old one. “People sometimes think it’s a question of sitting back and waiting for these things to come to you,” John says. “I wish! “In fact, he spends much of his time maintaining his profile and, crucially, keeping his skills up to date. “The rules are changing all the time,” he says. “As a non-exec, one of the really valuable things you can do is help businesses stay abreast of those changes. So training is a priority for me – and it’s a great way of networking too.” 

It’s not surprising to hear then that his advice to today’s students and graduates reflects his own commitment to lifelong learning, and continuing to make connections. “The big thing that’s changed since I was entering the job market is that the competition is now global,” he says. “People need to learn faster, be more willing to adapt and develop their skills to a higher level than ever before. If I had to give one piece of advice it would be ‘Stay curious’. Even in my 60s I’m learning new things about how businesses work every day.

© London South Bank University 2018