Features
Xenia Taliotis 31 Oct 2017 05:08pm

International rescue

After 30 years working all over the world, Mark Jerome has landed in South Korea, setting up the internal audit office at the Green Climate Fund. He tells Xenia Taliotis he’s driven by a desire to make a difference

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Mark Jerome has fulfilled his childhood ambition – and then some. Growing up in Addingham, in the Yorkshire Dales, he knew he wanted to travel and imagined making his permanent home overseas.

Now, decades later, and having recently moved to South Korea to take up his new post as head of internal audit at the Green Climate Fund (GCF), he looks back on his career with amazement, genuinely delighted with how things have worked out: “I’m very lucky – things have more or less gone to plan, both on a professional and a personal level, though I don’t think I ever imagined I would be living in South Korea.”

It’s nearly 30 years since England was his home, but he says he still feels English: “You never fully lose your roots or national identity. I’ve lived half my life in Asia – my wife is Vietnamese, we raised our children in Vietnam, and I’ve also spent time in Mongolia, Laos, Slovakia and Cambodia, with stints in Thailand, Kenya, Myanmar and Sudan, so in many ways I’m an internationalist. But when I open my mouth, I still sound very English, and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Jerome read modern history at the University of Oxford. “I’m particularly interested in what happens at boundaries,” he says, “where you have one culture on one side, and then you step across a checkpoint or cross over a river, and you encounter a completely different set of traditions and social mores. The cultural disparities between neighbouring nations can be enormous and you have to adapt your business etiquette accordingly.”

After Oxford, he’d hoped to join the Foreign Office but when that didn’t happen, he opted for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food instead, spending time in Brussels, which remains his all-time favourite city to live in. “I was with MAFF for eight years, and had reached a stage when my career progression didn’t feel within my control. That’s when I decided to move on, and though it may seem strange given my background and my age – I was nearly 30 – accountancy leapt out as the obvious choice. It was the one career that had the potential to give me all the challenges and opportunities I wanted, and it hasn’t disappointed. The ACA qualification is a passport to everywhere.”

He had a hard time persuading accountancy practices to believe he was serious about changing direction, but eventually hit gold when KPMG took him on. He qualified by “the skin of my teeth” – with four marginal passes – and even now, a quarter of a century on, his voice still carries a hint of the relief he felt when he found out he’d passed. “My peers and I were in London, in the West End waiting for the Saturday papers to come out and I remember us all jumping on them and tearing through to the exam results pages. It is seared into my memory. I’d really struggled in my final year and knew I’d find it very, very difficult to motivate myself for the re-sits – so seeing my name on the pass list was
a moment of pure euphoria.”

Jerome stayed with KPMG for 25 years, moving first to Brussels, then to Slovakia for 18 months, then to Vietnam: “I arrived there on a beautiful April afternoon in 1996 with no expectations at all,” he says. “I was picked up at this scrum of an airport at Hanoi and driven into the city, and it was like diving into a sea of bicycles. They were absolutely everywhere – hundreds and hundreds of them, in front of us, behind, to the side, and inches away from the car, flying past with no thought for the rules of the road.” In some ways, he says, they were a metaphor for the country itself, which was also racing ahead, desperate to learn and to develop, and far more interested in making progress than in following regulations.

He was first assigned to a hugely ambitious $10m project to develop accountancy guidelines and to introduce accounting and auditing training throughout the country, and says that progress was so fast that, within six months, they had to rewrite the scope of their programme. He stayed on when that finished, developing and delivering other projects not only in Vietnam but also in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Mongolia, gradually becoming more and more involved in the not-for-profit and development sector.“I focused on the development sector for a couple of years,” he says, “but demand was tailing off and I didn’t feel energised by what I was doing. I started looking for something new, and found the GCF, setting up its internal audit office.”

Founded in 2010 by the 194 countries that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the GCF helps developing countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions, funding projects such as solar energy development in Chile, building resilient communities and wetlands ecosystems in Uganda and establishing a water conservation programme in Morocco.

It’s early days for Jerome – he started in January – but he feels “like a square peg in a square hole”. He’s still building his team, starting his department from scratch and developing methodologies, procedures and tools, focusing on what factors will challenge the Fund and what to do about them.

There is a risk that the GCF may not be able to attract donor country support in a world where there are other pressing budgetary needs – including addressing poverty and threats of terrorism. But Jerome is optimistic: the issue of climate change continues to generate debate, and he says this is useful in itself since it keeps people’s attention focused on this global challenge. In the last few months, the GCF has received offers of support from countries, cities and individuals around the world. And in the meantime, the Fund is busy, reviewing and approving projects and monitoring their implementation. Jerome says he’s looking forward to the future – and why wouldn’t he?
It looks to be as fulfilling as the past.


THE ACCOUNT


I love being an ACA because…
I’ve been able to travel, use my brain and never get bored.

I’m happiest when… I’ve got a book in my hand and a favourite CD playing.

My favourite book is… Too difficult to choose, but my most recent “wow” book was Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory.

The hardest lesson to learn has been… That it is sometimes better to shut up and listen.

I’d like to be remembered as… Someone who gave a damn.

My worst habit is… I chew things – fingernails, pens, everything. And I talk too much.

The love of my life is… My wife. Though I’m pretty nuts about my granddaughters, too.
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