Sharon hangs up her calculator

Sharon Gravener, Corporate Services Partner and former Managing Partner will retire from Scrutton Bland at the end of March, having spent almost 40 years with the firm. Sharon looks back at her time in financial services and the things that have changed in that time.

30 March 2022 - Catherine Britton

My long association with Scrutton Bland, or Scrutton Goodchild & Sanderson as it was then, started in 1983. Through a contact of my father, I managed to get a meeting at a leading firm of accountants in Ipswich to discuss a career in accountancy. The partner there told me that they only recruited graduates, but that Scrutton, Goodchild & Sanderson may consider me. I managed to get an interview with their senior partner, Mr Davey. All I recollect of that interview is a room with files piled up floor to ceiling, and tea being served from a silver teapot into bone china cups. A different era. What I do still have is my offer letter – with my starting salary of £2,500.

My first year was very office based. Most of my time was spent sitting in the corner doing lots of adding up, writing up ledgers and suddenly after a few months I realised how logical double entry bookkeeping actually was. I still remember that day when it all became clear! The offices were appalling – brown lino everywhere and gas fires which I lit for everyone each morning as I was first in. However, within a few years we had the luxury of carpets and central heating.

After about a year I was asked to go out on some audits. One of my first audit visits was to Grimwades, which was a wonderful family-run department store in the heart of Ipswich. I did feel my career was over though when I got over-zealous with the handle-operated calculator and sent it skidding across the table, knocking a cup of tea over all the stock sheets on its way. This all happened just as Mr Grimwade walked into the room. I was convinced I would be sacked, or at the very least never let out on audit again. From there I was sent out to Ipswich Building Society and spent weeks in their attic looking up old accounts. I soon found I loved being an auditor as I liked going into assorted businesses every few weeks and meeting different people.

Following studies at Suffolk College and later at BBP in London, I qualified in 1988. Soon after that I became an audit manager and loved the small team of staff that I worked with and reporting to Paul Celerier as partner. Mr Davey was long gone! I still remember winning my first client: The Fountain House at Dedham, which I am delighted to say is still a Scrutton Bland client today. Within a few years of having bought my first house and becoming a manager we hit a recession – so there were lots of challenges. Whilst it was often tough, it provided me with a huge amount of experience of the challenges businesses can face.

Those challenges set me in good stead for the day when I was approached to see if I wanted to take a role as partner. The role was in Colchester. I worked closely with Andrew Strickland and took responsibility for some of his clients but also for the portfolio of David Foster on his retirement. To this day I still remember many of the lessons that Andrew taught me about being in partnership. About respect, integrity, teamwork, vision, seeing the bigger picture and always doing the right thing, even if it is difficult.  Years later the partnership undertook psychometric testing with a consultant and Andrew and I were told we should not get on as my personality type would drive him nuts! We had a good chuckle about this at the time and still do as we actually got on, and still get on, really well! I owe a huge debt to Andrew.

In early 2004 John Pickering sidled into my room and told me that the partners wished me to take the role of managing partner when his term concluded. I remember listening and thinking ‘how do I tell him I am pregnant again’?  Well I did, and it was agreed I would take up the mantle after I had had my third child. When I hear of women being treated less favourably in the workplace I think I have been truly fortunate to have joined an organisation where my partners have been fully supportive of me having 3 children in quite quick succession as a partner. As the only female managing partner of a top 100 firm at the time it was considered enlightening when I was interviewed for magazines – but we just considered it business as normal.

Some things have remained the same in my time with Scrutton Bland: the family feel, the supportive aspect and the integrity of the organisation. But thankfully some things have moved on: our juniors no longer light gas fires but come into modern, open plan, air-conditioned offices and have the support of a large IT department rather than an analysis pad and handle operated calculators. I leave the firm in a great position, and I know that Scrutton Bland will go from strength to strength with what is a fantastic and supportive group of partners, and a loyal and dynamic staff. And me? I shall be off exploring the world with my wonderful husband who has supported me throughout this journey.

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