Peter Taylor-Whiffen 27 Jul 2017 11:00am

Life after work: Michael Rogerson

Michael Rogerson tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen about the challenges and rewards of his half-century as a charity trustee, and his most recent work with the Samaritans

Caption: Photography: Richard Ansett

When a friend suggested in 1966 that Michael Rogerson needed interests outside work, to say he heeded the advice would be an understatement. He’s been a trustee of one charity or another ever since.

For 51 years Rogerson has combined his accountancy expertise and people skills to help everyone from prisoners to ballet dancers, disabled children to couples seeking marriage advice. Most recently, he’s helped tsunami victims determined to rebuild their lives and people so desperately without hope they can see nothing worth living for.

“Accountants can bring order to charitable organisations,” he says. “Our way of thinking can make them prioritise the part of their work that makes the most difference. We can help charities ask: ‘What is the real human impact of what we’re doing?’”

After articles with Spicer and Pegler in 1964, Rogerson broke with convention to work a three-month passage crewing a cargo ship to Australia, where he resumed accountancy with Melbourne firm Hancock & Woodward. Two years later he returned to London and Ernst & Young, and from 1974 saw out his career at Grant Thornton, ending up as their head of charity and not-for-profit.

Along the way he also chaired the London region of the Confederation of British Industry, a role which included regular interviews on Radio 4’s Today programme, and he once sat at a dinner between Lord Young and Casper Weinberger: “It was fascinating,” he recalls. “I was in the middle while they compared notes on meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev.”

It’s 10 years since he retired but Rogerson, now 76, is a trustee, treasurer and chair of two committees at the Samaritans. “It’s the charity everyone knows of, and hopes they’ll never have to use,” he says. “But millions do need it. Our 20,000 listeners took 5.7 million calls last year.”

Rogerson has helped shift the organisation from 201 unincorporated self-governing charities to a cohesive, efficient, incorporated whole – in just four and a half years. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve done, and one of the most important – helping provide a long stop for people with truly nowhere else to go, or who may have done something terrible and can’t talk to family or friends.

“Accountants join charities to help with the books but you have to go in and care,” he says. “If you’re not passionate – tiresomely passionate – you won’t be any good.”

Rogerson also plays golf and bridge and tends a landscape garden at the home he shares in Newnham, Hampshire, with his wife Jane. The couple have a son and daughter, five grandchildren and another on the way, “who take up my time, in the most wonderful way”. But even they can’t stop him working. “My children say, ‘Are you sure you can take on another trusteeship?’” he says. “But I think we’re here to serve. If there’s a need, I feel called to meet it.”