The view from the President: Giving back

CIMA President Steven Swientozielskyj, FCMA, CGMA

'It is an honour to be able to serve our profession and give back.'

I wanted to be an accountant from an early age. Not knowing what such a professional actually did, I was impressed by a visit at age 14 to an accountant's office with its big desk, big telephone, and even bigger rolls of computer printout. That set me on a course that would see me become CIMA-qualified, having a varied and successful career, and then become CIMA president — an opportunity to give back to the profession.

I didn't take the initial advice to go to university and train as a tax and audit accountant, but went instead to university in Manchester — what is now Manchester Metropolitan University — to study for a business degree. Year 3 of the course — the industry placement — was an early boost to my understanding of how business and industrial relations work.

My parents had come to the UK as war refugees from Ukraine with no money or assets. The only education they had was through living — often in very tough times. I am grateful for two things they gave me: a natural honesty and a strong work ethic. These have been the "golden threads" throughout my personal and professional lives.

In the 1980s, I was a very young financial controller managing a tractor plant's finances and was sponsored to study for an MBA at Cranfield School of Management. At the same time a possible move for me to the company's US operation fell through, as the ACMA qualification had little recognition in the US at that time. That's one of several reasons behind my support for the Association's strategy to open the US market for CGMA designation holders.

During my career, which has encompassed food and vehicle manufacturing, consultancy, and the electricity and rail sectors, I have dealt with accounting collapses, complex technology implementations, mergers and acquisitions, and vesting and floating companies. These were all seminal learning experiences. So what did I learn?

Over the years and through experience, I have developed a personal mission statement (to do creative and innovative things), a vision statement (to make people happy and smile each day), and an operating model based on four C's:

  • Compliance: Is what we are doing ethical and not breaking rules?
  • Cycle times: This is the element of speed and the efficiency of the overall system.
  • Customer service: Is the focus going beyond the customer's expectations?
  • Cash impact: Maintaining cash flow is crucial, but corporate disasters usually result from failure on the first three parts of my model.

This model has helped me to deliver what others have described as "world class" results in several activities. My experience leading change, especially in the rail industry, allowed me to develop specialist skills in shared services and also to write a book on business partnering. I lecture internationally on both these subjects.

On a very personal level, I have read a lot of spiritual and religious books. I am drawn to the definition of a good Buddhist life and the requirement to "give back" after the earlier stages of your life.

Giving back is something I have been doing since 2011 when I became active within the governance of CIMA. I joined CIMA's Council as a co-opted member and was elected to the Professional Standards Committee and then to the Executive Committee. I became an honorary officer in 2016 and CIMA president in June 2018. It is an honour to be able to serve our profession and give back.


Follow me on Twitter: @CIMA_President