LAW: At the helm on sea and shore

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Indy Lifestyle Online
KPMG's senior partner, Colin Sharman, must feel like the man in the frame. Last week's long-awaited announcement that his firm is to incorporate its audit arm as a way of providing greater protection against negligence claims has taken off some of the pressure, since as the prime mover in the plan, he would have been in some trouble had his 600-odd fellow partners voted the wrong way. But it has also put him on the spot, as his counterparts in rival firms will be watching how the idea works in practice before following suit.

Mr Sharman says the firm's most important audience - its clients - has backed the proposal on the grounds that it will know more about the financial health of the practice as a result of the disclosure that incorporation will bring. As to how much that will be a selling point when KPMG finds itself up against other Big Six firms, only time will tell.

But one thing is sure: Mr Sharman will not duck any fight that will ensue. Called abrasive by some, he is pugnacious and values the fact that he and his senior colleagues do not always see eye to eye.

He also has long experience of leading from the front. Now in his early fifties, he has - as he puts it - been "at the sharp end for the best part of 25 years". His plan on leaving school at 18 was to do mining engineering in South Africa. But a hard winter as a builders' labourer convinced him there had to be easier ways of earning a living, namely law and accountancy. The latter won out because he liked the idea of visiting lots of businesses.

Training with the small City firm (now no longer) of Woolgar Hennel & Co, he moved to the then Peat Marwick on qualifying. From then on progress was swift. He travelled to Frankfurt as an audit manager and two years later, in 1973, became a partner in The Hague, soon after being given responsibility for setting up practices in Norway and Denmark. In 1975, at the ripe-old age of 32, he became senior partner in the Netherlands, and two years later took over responsibility for the whole of north-west Europe.

In 1981 he returned to London to be take charge of setting up the firm's public-sector practice. Five years later, when the rules on professional firms' marketing changed, he had responsibility for that role before moving on to head the consulting practice for two years. Three years as senior partner of the south-eastern region ended last year, when he became senior partner for the UK and quickly set about his incorporation plan.

He has three years of his initial term in this post to go and is not sure whether he will seek re-election for a subsequent three years. But there will definitely be no more after that - all that leadership time has kept him away from his sailing and the vineyard at his Sussex farm.

Nor is he keen to follow others into lucrative non-executive directorships. As he is reputed to earn about pounds 750,000 a year, it is hard to disagree with his view that he does not need the money.