Bolton School Former Pupils
Andrew Palmer (Class of 1977)
Could you write a brief pen portrait about yourself and your career?
During three years studying economics at Cambridge I dreamt of working for the World Bank and eliminating poverty in Africa. I was rudely awoken by the cost of a postgraduate course in development economics at Harvard, the apparent door opener for the World Bank in those days.
So, on graduating in 1980 I joined a firm of accountants instead and I’ve remained there ever since. My four children are variously amused or horrified that I could stay with one organisation for so long – although they never really took much interest in what that organisation did until one of its partners handed out the wrong envelope at the 2017 Oscars.
But it’s an organisation that’s taken me to every corner of the world, working with an astonishingly diverse mix of talented people. Although I still describe myself on visa applications as a chartered accountant I haven’t done much accountancy for a very long time. Since 1992 I’ve generally been described by others as a “forensic specialist”, investigating the reasons for the collapse of many high profile organisations (eg Maxwell, BCCI, Lehmans, Polly Peck) or giving expert evidence in international arbitration cases.
And my work has influenced so many other aspects of my life. I met my wife, Karen, when I was living and working in Bahrain during the mid 1980s. Our family home is in North Yorkshire, a legacy of working in our Leeds office between 2000 and 2006.
After 37 years I’m due to retire as a PwC partner at the end of 2017. I’m planning to resurrect my dream (sort of), although it’s more likely to be the LSE and some NGOs rather than Harvard and the World Bank.
What is your connection to Bolton School? Were any other members of your family here?
I first stepped off the Eccles bus in September 1969 – into Lower 2, a short lived Park Road class for those who passed the entrance exam a year earlier than most. A year later I was lucky enough to secure a free place, with the Direct Grant support of Lancashire County Council. I never asked my dad what would have happened if I’d fluffed my Eleven Plus – but I do know that my best friend in Lower 2 left School after one year because he didn’t get a free place.
As far as I know, I’m the only member of my extended family who has attended School. Perhaps coincidentally, I’m the only member of my extended family who doesn’t now live within the M60.
After thirty or so years of little or no contact with School, I was honoured and delighted to be invited to join the Governing Body in 2013.
What is your fondest Bolton School memory?
There was a bizarre requirement, under the Direct Grant system, that students needed to stay in School until February in order to secure the Direct Grant funding for a third year in the sixth form. For those doing Oxbridge entrance exams in early November, this meant almost four months in School with no real work to do and no exams to worry about.
As the Oxbridge entrants we were the grandees of the School, free to push some boundaries and to forge relationships which would last a lifetime – six of us are still close friends and enjoy an annual pilgrimage to the Lakes, a weekend of walking and reminiscing about those marvellous four months in 1976/77.
Did any member of teaching staff particularly inspire you while you were at school?
I won’t repeat what I’ve written elsewhere about George Lancashire except to say that he was one of several teachers from that era who helped define Bolton School, embodying everything that is unique about the School and the values which will always be its foundation stone.
Ultimately any institution like Bolton School will be defined by the values which its students take with them into the outside world. And it was teachers like George Lancashire, Charles Winder, Jim Dawson and George Grasby who had a profound influence on how their students responded to the opportunities and challenges of adult life.
What do you feel your experience at Bolton School has given to you personally?
More obviously, School gave me a strong educational foothold which propelled me into Cambridge and, subsequently, on a long and rewarding career with PwC.
Perhaps more importantly, the values which make School so special shaped the ways in which I engage with others and think about my wider responsibilities:
• Seeing people for what they could be, with the right support, rather than what they are;
• Embracing difference and change, whilst maintaining a respect for tradition;
• Building loyal teams, driven by common purpose rather than personal ambition.
What is the best career advice you can give to Bolton School pupils today?
Follow your heart rather than your head – pursue things which you enjoy doing and never lose sight of the things that really matter to you personally. People are rarely successful doing something which they neither enjoy nor believe in.
What do you think about Bolton School’s 100 Campaign aim to re-establish genuine open access through its bursary fund?
As chairman of the School’s Development Committee and somebody who enjoyed all of the benefits of the Direct Grant system I’m a big fan of the 100 Campaign. If the very essence of Bolton School is to be maintained the objectives which underlie the 100 Campaign are not optional. Put simply, Bolton School must be able to offer opportunity to those boys and girls who will make the most of that opportunity rather than to those whose parents can afford the fees.