A casual visitor to the Lothbury offices of Messrs Tender & Mainprice, chartered accountants, seeing Amanda Jenkinson meekly setting out agendas on the boardroom table or casting an anxious eye over the trays of sandwiches, could be forgiven for assuming that she was one of the partners' PAs, or at best some medium-grade administrative assistant.
Such is her air of well-nigh timorous reserve that more than one ill-bred finance director has made the mistake of asking her to fetch him another cup of coffee or make half-a-dozen copies of this will you, love, only to be corrected in a shocked undertone by one of his colleagues.
For Amanda – despite her relative youth (she is thought to be in her late thirties), the quietness of her voice and the modesty of her get-up – is one of the shining ornaments in Tender & Mainprice's very considerable diadem. A profile in last week's Accountancy Age needed nearly a column-and-a-half to set out the full range of her achievements: the first-class degree in business studies; the Plender prize for auditing in her final exams; the promotion to senior manager at the precocious age of 27; the partnership – this in a firm famous for its reluctance to admit women to top-level jobs – before her 30th birthday.
If there is one curious aspect to this meteoric career, it is that the Tender & Mainprice view of her divides up entirely on gender lines. The senior partner (a man) frankly adores his protegée, and is already scheming to get her on to the executive committee. But female managers flee in terror from her sarcasm, and the solitary blot on her personal file is an incident in which a pregnant secretary arrived at the human-resources department in tears, claiming that Amanda had told her she would feel less nauseous if she did some work instead of sitting around feeling sorry for herself.
"Don't work for Amanda," women warn each other darkly over lunch in the Tender & Mainprice canteen. "She'll make you stay late on your wedding anniversary and come in on Boxing Day."
As to the roots of this conspicuous lack of feminine solidarity, they can perhaps be found in the conditions of her own early employment. Times were tough for girls in the City when Amanda started out. For some reason it has never occurred to her that they might be any less tough now.