the suits

Irene Currie is a great believer in the idea that the modern accountant has to be a lot more flexible than before. But many of her colleagues might well feel that she has taken that belief a bit far - by going into corporate communications. Nor is she carrying out this role in a sleepy backwater. She is doing it at Scottish Nuclear when the preparations for privatisation are, arguably, giving it a higher profile than at any time before.

She is, however, no stranger to the sell-off procedure. Before joining Scottish Nuclear as assistant to the chairman and chief executive three years ago, she worked at Scottish Power, which was then going through much the same process. One of her roles there was setting up financial systems at one of the divisions. She was only 25 then and the job involved working with a lot of male engineers, she says ruefully.

Surviving the experience has apparently given her the confidence to relish her present role, which is, she admits, "an ever-growing portfolio". Dubbed a "bright spark" by some waggish former colleagues in the electricity company, she is certainly a long way from the conventional view of the public-sector accountant. But then she seems to have always done the unexpected.

At an early age she won a school prize for adding up, but read languages when she went to Glasgow University. In her own words, she "fell into" accountancy when she joined Strathclyde council on graduation, and gained her Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy qualifications. Doing such tasks as introducing financial systems was, she insists, "a lot of fun".

Nevertheless, she was soon off to Scottish Power and then on to the state- owned nuclear organisation. Having never intended to be an accountant, she saw sitting alongside the company's most senior executives as an opportunity to broaden her experience. And this led naturally into an involvement with public relations.

While acknowledging that she has come a long way from her beginnings, Ms Currie, 32, claims she has not left accountancy behind but taken it with her. "Accountancy exams are much wider than just doing figures," she says.

Fair enough. But she did help to confirm the view that there was a stereotype from which to break free when she recalled how a former colleague had congratulated her on her latest appointment with the words "an accountant who can communicate".

ROGER TRAPP

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