Meet Ian Colebourne

Deloitte CIS Managing partner 

The success of a firm depends on its leadership. For this reason, it is important to know the leader’s ambitions, professional background and values, and leadership fundamentals. In the first of a series of interviews, the new Managing Partner of Deloitte CIS, Ian Colebourne, gives a personal insight into his professional journey.

When I was very young, 4 years old, my parents set up their own business in packaging.  I used to go on deliveries as a kid, but from about the age of 15 I would work in the warehouse at the weekend and during the school holidays to earn pocket (later beer) money. I suppose being brought up in an entrepreneurial environment rubbed off.  It certainly taught me the importance of focusing on clients – and having them pay their bills on time!

As for my dream career, it would have been an F1 driver. As a young boy a favorite uncle turned up once in a banana yellow car– a shocking car in terms of reliability, but it looked very cool and all my friends were incredibly jealous.  The same uncle covered my first bike in Porsche Gulf Team racing stripes – all his fault obviously.

At university in 1990 I was studying Biological Science. But a two week placement with a law firm in Birmingham during the Easter vacation at university confirmed my interest in law and that a life working in a laboratory was not for me. It was one of the first defining moments that has shaped my career.

The next step was in June of 1996. I moved from a law firm to the Big Four Forensic business – switching to cash tracing on an multi-jurisdictional fraud investigation involving hundreds of millions of dollars, high-profile financiers in Spain, Sheikhs in Kuwait, off-shore trusts, yachts and glamorous properties in the Bahamas – I was hooked.  I still have friends from my days at the law firm and whenever we talk about work, mine always sounds much more fun!

In November of 2000, I took part in a joint project with Restructuring colleagues that turned into a nine month project, and was my first taste of Russia! And in April of 2003 I moved to Moscow with my wife and two kids at that time – Karen was 10 and we had just had Peter, who was three months old.  It was supposed to be a six month secondment to test the case for Forensic in Russia – as if that wouldn’t work!  And after that project I continued to do work related to CIS even after the engagement finished.

The opportunity to start the Forensic business back in 2003 was a challenge.  None of the Big Four had a Forensic practice, so it was starting something from scratch – an opportunity to build a business and to create the market for it.  You don’t often get opportunities like that.

I was offered the chance to return to London on several occasions.  There was undoubtedly some appeal in returning to something predictable, but I knew that I would quickly get bored after the experience in Moscow.  Besides, things were going really well and I was having a lot of fun so it honestly felt like it would be a step backwards.  I had a fantastic team around me, we were building the best business in the market and it felt like an extended family – an addictive mix and very hard to leave!

In May of 2011 I agreed to meet with Humphry Hatton, Deloitte’s then-EMEA Forensic Chairman for breakfast in London – the rest is history.

The whole process of hiring took close to eleven months so it certainly wasn’t a snap decision, but there were three fundamental attractions:

First, and right from the outset I was really impressed by the people that I met, in particular the meetings with David Owen and Mark Mullins left me in no doubt that I would be working with, and learning from, a very high quality team.  I wasn’t wrong.

Second, from a Forensic perspective, the opportunity to connect the leading CIS Forensic business with practices of the scale and calibre in Deloitte’s U.S. and UK teams was appealing on a professional level.  The U.S. team, given the continuing seam of opportunity associated with FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) ‘issues’ faced in the CIS, and the UK’s track record with CIS-related disputes in the English courts were very strong differentiators that would create a lot of opportunity for growth across the team.

Third, the firm had gone through a tough time and the opportunity to be part of the turn-around was very appealing.  Important to me was the ‘tone’ communicated by all the International Deloitte folks that I met. They all had a consistent message around the importance of the CIS business to the International Network, which gave me great confidence that the appeal of being part of the world’s largest professional services firm would be matched by the commitment from it in supporting the development of the business.

I had two guiding principles when setting up Forensic.  First, we were going to be the best practice in the market, bar none.  Second, that there would be ‘no discount to London’ in terms of quality – by which I mean that we would deliver at the gold standard.  They served me well and have remained guiding lights in each of the leadership roles I have had the opportunity to hold.

Second, that if you accept the limitations that others place on you, then you are limiting yourself.  We all have the opportunity to exceed expectations – it is just a question of whether you push yourself and seize that opportunity or let it pass you by.

I suppose, reflecting on the answers to your defining moments questions, it is to not fear change.  They say the only things certain in life are death and taxes – but change is constant.

I don’t think at the outset I can say I ever really thought about being a CEO.  I have always been ambitious and never really doubted my ability to achieve objectives.  I was clear that I wanted to become a partner from the outset, primarily because I wanted to have the sense of ownership and the opportunity to have input into the direction and shape of the firm.

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