This article was first published in the September 2018 UK edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Harry Maguire, one of the England footballers who helped the team to a creditable performance in this summer’s World Cup, was destined to be an accountant. At least so says The Sun newspaper, which informs us that at school the 6ft 4in burly defender was as good at crunching numbers as he is at crunching tackles.

The defender has attributes required of the best finance professionals – reliable, unshowy, prepared to take calculated risks, extremely strong team worker and collaborator and yet ready to step up to lead when required.

In sport, as well as other high-profile celebrity roles, those attributes help to confer fame and the status of heroes. Professionals display those characteristics to colleagues and clients day in, day out without expecting to achieve wider recognition or to be regarded as exceptional.

Accountants who do find themselves in the limelight are there because their business activities take place in a sector that provokes wider public interest; running sports, retail or media businesses is the most obvious route to a higher profile for finance professionals.

Sport in particular holds a fascination for business leaders – England’s Rugby World Cup success in 2003 still makes
its then coach Clive Woodward a popular and respected figure at business conferences.

Such an interest is easy to understand. On one level it is a chance to gain some insight into the minutiae of sporting heroes – what do they eat before a game, what music comes through the headphones? But there is a more serious side to this interest in fame. Elite sport works as a powerful metaphor for business. On a daily basis, top sportspeople and business leaders both think constantly about competing hard, establishing long-term and short-term strategies and tactics, hard work, perseverance and determination.

Success in sport and business alike relies on the ability to improve performance and to resist being carried away by success or blown away by failure. Elite sports stars and top finance professionals learn time and again that winning comes down to the smallest of margins.

Finance professionals may not share the trappings and tortures of fame and the adulation poured on sporting heroes, but the successful ones do share the same language, tools and attitudes.

Of the many attributes that outstanding business leaders and sportspeople share, four stand out: focus, authenticity, courage and timing. These are all components of character – mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual – that lie at the heart of being a successful professional.

Accountants’ achievements may not be as widely applauded or give as much pleasure as those who score goals, kick conversions, serve aces and hole puts. But they are no less worth of commendation. And in the long run – dare one say it – the finance professional may make a more significant contribution to humanity’s wellbeing.

Peter Williams is an accountant and journalist