Tuesday 06 February 1996
The youngest of five children, he was raised by his Jewish immigrant parents in the East End of London. Whilst medicine fascinated him, perhaps as a result of his tuberculosis as a child, economic necessity had him articled at 16 and a chartered accountant at 21. He joined his elder brother, Percy, and built an accounting practice that, by the 1950s, represented to the business community of the West End what Kenneth and Norman Cork's practice, Cork Gully, represented to the City. In his early practising years Phillips decided to wear clear spectacles because he appeared too young for his qualifications and evident ability.
During the 1950s and 1960s the burgeoning fashion industry had many casualties, but there were few of its members who did not receive voluntarily, or otherwise, the benefits of the skills of the Phillips brothers, two of the first company doctors. Bernard Phillips's enduring contribution was to the institutionalisation of a small group of accountants specialising in insolvency work. He recognised the need to co- ordinate the skills and learning of a few unregulated specialists into a dynamic professional body. His determination to excise any "cowboy" elements and develop a respected next generation of practitioners was visionary.
In 1982 he was uniquely honoured with the presidency of the Insolvency Practitioners Association having just a few years earlier been its chairman. He was largely responsible for protecting the multi-disciplinary insolvency profession from an attempted takeover by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, a misguided power play which he sensed would always remain a threat. Paradoxically, earlier in his career he had resisted pressure to become a barrister so as not to lose his valued chartered accountancy qualification - a sacrifice that today would no longer be necessary.
Bernard Phillips and Company was the stable which trained many of today's leading insolvency practitioners, including John Talbot at Arthur Andersen, Chris Morris at Touche Ross and Phillips's own son Peter at Buchler Phillips.
In 1979 his firm joined Arthur Andersen to form that international organisation's first insolvency division. In Ian Hay Davison, Arthur Andersen's then managing partner, Bernard Phillips found a kindred spirit; pioneering, creative, forceful and articulate. The Law Society regularly sent its members to watch Phillips conduct meetings of creditors to hone their public speaking skills.
Phillips's contributions extended well beyond those to his profession. In his early years as a formidable atheist intellect and powerful orator and debater, he was a member of the Hampstead Parliament (a debating society), once famously having taken on the role of the Communist Chancellor of the Exchequer presenting his Budget.
For many years he worked for the Peckham Settlement, with Lady Howe of Aberavon and Maureen Davison. The settlement runs a community centre for local residents in Peckham, south London, including a low-pay nursery, pensioners club and advice centre. Phillips also did voluntary work for the Mary Ward Settlement in Bloomsbury, offering financial advice at weekly surgeries.
Retirement from Arthur Andersen at the age of 74 gave him time, much of which he committed to two Sussex charities, the Lionel House Trust (a home for young people), of which he was a founder, and Worthing Victim Support, of which he was immediate past chairman.
An active man in every respect, Bernard Phillips was jet-skiing in his beloved Cyprus on his 80th birthday, he attended his last Labour Party Conference in October last year and performed on a local stage at Ferring, West Sussex, in lycra leggings only three weeks before his death.
G. A. Weiss
Bernard Phillips, insolvency practitioner: born Liverpool 7 October 1914; senior partner, Bernard Phillips and Company 1952-82; senior insolvency consultant, Arthur Andersen 1982-88; President, Insolvency Practitioners Association 1982; married 1938 Pat Clayton (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1963), 1964 Lillian Tavendale (two daughters); died Worthing 24 January 1996.
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