Michael Jeans lives a life of contrast. If you meet him in London, he might be in splendid robes as Master of the Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (WCCAEW), hosting grand functions throughout the Square Mile. But at his other home you’ll see no suits, no offices – just casual dress, in an idyllic tiny village near Genoa, northern Italy.
“I love them equally,” says Jeans, who spends at least one weekend a month at the Mediterranean retreat he’s owned for 25 years. “When I’m in the city I appreciate the peace of village life, and when in Genoa I appreciate the bustle of London.”
His life in the capital is busy thanks to his recent appointment as Master of the WCCAEW, one of 110 livery companies in the City of London that promote their trades, undertake community and charitable works and participate in the area’s governance, including choosing the Lord Mayor of London.
“Livery companies have existed since medieval times,” says Jeans. “The oldest are the ‘Great 12’ – sort of a Premier League.” The accountants’ company has provided eight Lord Mayors.
Jeans became involved with the Livery in 1985 by joining the Haberdashers. Seeing their famous schools instilled a passion for education. “I have been a governor of four schools, chaired the Haberdashers’ education committee and served on the board of the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools. Education is vital, it’s our country’s future. If you don’t prepare people for the world they are unfulfilled, which breeds unrest.”
He then joined the Company of Management Consultants and later the Accountants – and has been Master of all three. “The Company of Accountants is very proudly affiliated to its trade,” he says. “Only ICAEW members can join – and my two predecessors as Master, and my successor, have all been Institute presidents. The Institute and the Company are complementary – our community activities and charity work build on the Institute’s structure of training and development.”
Jeans has come a long way since being encouraged to follow his father into accountancy in 1964 because it was “a safe bet”. He joined Peat Marwick & Mitchell (later KPMG) and aside from a three-year stint at Blue Circle, stayed for 30 years, specialising in change management and advising on National Power’s privatisation. After an eye operation that “went wrong” in 1994, he quit KPMG to be an independent management consultant, serving clients such as the Planning Inspectorate, the DTI, Oxford University, General Medical Council and numerous corporates.
And at 73, his new role as Master allows little rest. “This week I hosted a reception at the Old Bailey, attended a church service, spoke at a school prize-giving, helped write a history of the company and chaired a meeting at the Bar Council. I still do consultancy. My children (a son and daughter he calls “the pair of Jeans”) keep asking when I’ll retire. I can’t see myself stopping.”
Still, he can relax in his Italian village. “Yes,” he says, “although I am chairman of their residents’ association. Oh, and they did ask me to be mayor...”