From front line to bottom line

Features Posted 28/02/20
Specialist accountant who enjoyed his army years says there are important lessons that business can learn from service life.

As a veteran of the First Gulf War, Duncan Cochrane-Dyet has seen his share of action under fire. Now with several decades of experience within the financial sector under his belt, he can see the benefits of life as both soldier and civilian. “The army teaches you confidence, leadership and how to act in extreme conditions,” Duncan tells me. “I thoroughly enjoyed my six years in the service, but it was a single person’s life and I needed to move on.” That “moving on” led him into accountancy and a life dedicated to the financial sector.

A few minutes into our conversation, it becomes clear that the army left Duncan with very decided views on people skills – and how they could be incorporated into business.

“I am concerned that there is no comprehensive leadership training for newcomers to business, unlike the army,” he tells me. “We teach our people managing, but not leading and I think business is the poorer for it.”

Duncan wrote a blog on the issue soon after he joined MHA MacIntyre Hudson (MHA), a national Top 15 firm of accountants, in 2015. It’s still available on the company website and makes interesting reading.

The piece begins: “It probably goes without saying that the foundation of the success of our Armed Forces is leadership, at all levels. The army trains its officers at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where leadership is taught formally. “Odd, then, that we in the business world do not place the same emphasis on leadership as a discrete skill that can be developed and disregard the huge and beneficial impact that effective leadership at all levels can have. There is virtually no formal leadership training, although this is starting to appear as a component in management courses.”

Duncan joined MHA’s Kent team after several years in the financial sector in London – with firms Ernst and Young (EY) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). He looks back with affection on those days, and on lessons learned in how the profession worked.

Now, as a specialist audit and assurance partner with MHA, Duncan divides his time between the firm’s Kent offices in Canterbury and Maidstone and is responsible for a fast-developing team.

“When I started, we had 27 people, now we have more than 100,” he tells me proudly. And it won’t stop there, the company has plans to double the size of its workload in the next five years, so Duncan is going to be busy.

We chat about his management style and he pauses to consider the answer. “This is about empowering people, and allowing them to make mistakes and to learn from them. This is a very complex world and I could not do my job without regular discussions with the team. I operate very much an open door policy – anyone is welcome to pop into my office at any time, to chat about an issue.”

Life at home is similarly hectic for Duncan, who is married to a GP who is also an assistant director with NHS England. Their three children are aged 22, 20 and 19 and are all pursuing their career dreams. His elder son is in the education sector, his daughter is in vet’s school and his younger son is embarking on medical studies, following his mother. Despite all these responsibilities, Duncan still finds time to walk the family’s two cocker spaniels and goes to the gym when he can.

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