Championing the cause

Monday, 01 October 2012
The new Board of Directors is steering STEP through its continued growth, but where is it heading? The author speaks to Deputy Chairman Nick Jacob about his strategic vision.

‘There are times (not many!) when I think, “Why am I doing all this?”’ says Nick Jacob, reflecting on the responsibilities he acquired when elected as Deputy Chairman in 2010. Jacob championed the idea of a small, focused board of directors to drive the Society’s strategy and decision-making, but admits he didn’t foresee the workload. ‘Occasionally I think maybe I’ve got my priorities wrong. You never get the balance right! You just do your best. Most of the STEP work I do, apart from meetings, is in my own time, so during evenings and weekends. But I get a buzz out of it because I think STEP is such an interesting and exciting organisation, and I have learned a lot, which I don’t believe I would have known otherwise.’

Member 22, Nick Jacob has been dedicated to the Society from the 1991 start. He’s a regular on its international conference circuit and, in May 2012 alone, presented in Cyprus, the Caribbean and South Africa – all this on top of being a full-time Partner at Lawrence Graham LLP, where he sits on the management board. ‘I do it because I believe in STEP, because I’m enthused by what I saw [in those countries],’ he says. ‘I’m very keen to help generate more of that enthusiasm and show that internationally STEP cares and that it develops in areas where we think we ought to.’ Now, as part of STEP’s eight-strong Board, he is volunteering even more time to develop the Society.

Splitting his work between London and Asia, Jacob is a good example of an international STEP member, and he supports its global reach. As Deputy Chairman of the Branch Development Committee, he knows this is important for the Society’s growth: STEP is already present in 50 countries and has the BRIC countries in its sights. STEP is developing in India through a steering panel led by Richard Pease, and there have been calls for membership in Russia and China. As the Society grows in Latin America, there will be interest from Brazil, too. ‘However,’ says Jacob, ‘I think we must be very careful that we maintain our reputation and standards within those jurisdictions, and that’s probably the biggest challenge, as well as linguistic challenges.’

Nick Jacob TEP: STEP duties and CV

  • Deputy Chairman, Board of Directors
  • Deputy Chairman, Branch Development Committee
  • Chairman, HR and Remuneration Committe
  • Lead Board Member on international conferences
  • Lawrence Graham LLP, Partner, 2002 to date
  • Rooks Rider, Partner, 1986–2002
  • Baileys Shaw & Gillett, Trainee and Solicitor, 1980–1984

Attention must also be paid to supporting weaker branches, according to Jacob. And inevitable further expansion in Asia, enhanced by the popularity of STEP’s conferences in Singapore and Hong Kong, will show the way. ‘It may be places like Thailand and the Philippines that come on board next, but that’s got to be controlled as well,’ he says. ‘Indonesia is another area – there’s a lot of wealth being created there – and that’s the reason for the need for STEP.’ Special Interest Groups, most of which are currently UK-based, should catch the wider membership, too. ‘I am a great believer that they are really important to us and all of them should be represented in all the regions in which we operate, but they need the infrastructure to do that. If I could run them all then I would do it,’ he says without hesitation.

Left: Deputy Chairman of STEP Nick Jacob. Photo: Mark Weeks

In particular, Jacob wants more recognition for the ‘E’ in STEP and a presence in civil-law countries. ‘For me, that is the most important area for our development in the future,’ he says. People die in civil-law countries just as much as they do in common-law countries and there are big divergences around the world in how estates are dealt with, he says. ‘That’s masterminded in many of those jurisdictions by the notaries and they’re fairly self-preserving, so it is quite difficult to get in on that act, but I still think we could have a big part to play.’ Jacob also wants to focus on building STEP’s status as a consultant, independent of any political force, and a quasi-professional body recognised by transnational organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Financial Action Task Force, G20 and the EU. ‘Many of our members have got their own regulatory bodies anyway and I don’t see acting as a regulatory body as a road that STEP should be going down as yet.’

Leading by example

At the helm of these goals is STEP’s elected Board, which formed in 2010 to support the Council, considered too large to manage day-to-day decisions. The body is making careful steps ahead of great strides and Jacob acknowledges the steady cultural change. Things had happened ‘to a degree opportunistically’, but the Board is driving STEP’s strategy. ‘I think, in the future, we need to be controlling it and making sure that it happens in the way we want it to happen,’ he says. ‘The Board has to embrace a collective strategic vision and actually be saying to staff “this is where we want you to go, as agreed by Council”.’ Jacob admits the Board is learning on its feet, but he believes it will be a great success. ‘It is quite challenging and there’s a lot to think about as time goes on.’

One item on the agenda is what the Society will look like in 2021, its 30th year. Jacob believes STEP should be double its present size, with four or five global regional offices, coordinated from London, and membership in all the BRIC countries. He sees the organisation leaning towards wealth management, something the Board has already discussed. ‘I think we’ll be seen hopefully, as I think we already are seen, as the leading organisation in wealth management, and I think we’ll consolidate that position,’ he says. ‘But it will continue to require strong leadership, strong commitment and strong vision.’

Tips from the top: advice for new members

‘First they need to become a member – that’s one hurdle. Second, I think it’s like anything in life: what you get out of it is what you put into it. So if people are prepared to put something into STEP, they will get something out if it, and that’s the way I’ve benefited from it.

‘Initially, people need to start to get involved in probably two or three things. One is going along to local meetings, two is going along to certain conferences, and three is getting involved in a subcommittee or committee of some sort. And in that way people will start to realise the excitement of being involved in STEP and they’ll see that there’s something they can get out of it. That’s what I advise our juniors.’

Jacob knows he or his fellow directors can’t achieve these goals alone, though. STEP also needs champions, especially in new territories, who pull in the same direction. Jacob himself was hesitant about joining STEP in 1991 for fear of getting too close to his competitors, but quickly realised the benefits of industry allies. ‘If you’re all at loggerheads, you can’t present a united front,’ he says. ‘STEP’s strength is in its global unity and commonality of purpose, despite different cultures and aspirations; that’s why we’ve got to make sure we’re all working together, that we’re mutually supportive and that there is really strong coordination.’

Find out more about STEP’s Board at www.step.org/governance

Author block
Right
Jennifer Palmer-Violet

Jennifer Palmer-Violet is the PR and Communications Executive for STEP.

The content displayed here is subject to our disclaimer. Read more