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The Right Honourable
 The Lord Benson

Born 2 August 1909(1909-08-02)
Johannesburg, South Africa
Died 5 March 1995 (aged 85)
Chichester, Sussex, England
Birth name Henry Alexander Benson
Nationality British
Profession Accountant

Henry Alexander Benson, Baron Benson (2 August 1909 – 5 March 1995) was a British accountant best known as a partner of Coopers & Lybrand, an advisor to the Bank of England, his work organising the accountancy profession as president of ICAEW and for the part he played in various Royal Commissions.

Born in Johannesburg to Alexander Benson and his wife Florence Cooper, the daughter of Francis Cooper of Cooper Brothers & Co, Benson was educated initially in South Africa before moving to the United Kingdom in 1926, where he started training as an accountant with Cooper Brothers. After qualifying in 1932 he continued to work there, and became a salaried partner two years later at the age of 25. Following the outbreak of the Second World War Benson joined the Grenadier Guards as a second lieutenant, and was seconded to the Special Operations Executive in 1942 and then to the Ministry of Supply in 1944.

Benson helped build Coopers into an important international audit and accountancy firm as Coopers & Lybrand, and was the first living non-American elected to the Accounting Hall of Fame. He is known within the legal profession for his work on the Benson Commission, the report of which was one of the precursors of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990.

Contents

Early life

Benson was born on 2 August 1909 in Johannesburg to Alexander Benson, a solicitor, and his wife Florence Cooper, daughter of Francis Cooper, one of the founders of Coopers & Lybrand.[1] He was educated at St John's College before moving suddenly to Parktown Boys' High School, something he attributed to a lack of money with which to pay the fees for St John's College.[2] During a visit to London when he was 14, Benson and his mother had a meeting at Cooper Brothers, at which the partners made Benson an offer of employment as soon as he left school. He took up the offer in October 1926, and began as an articled clerk. Benson qualified as a Associate Chartered Accountant in 1932, coming eleventh in the intermediate examination and fourth in the final examination out of 1088 candidates.[2]

Coopers & Lybrand and war work

Benson started working for Cooper Brothers & Co as soon as he qualified, and became a partner in the firm in 1934 at the age of 25.[3]

After the start of the Second World War in 1939 Benson became a second lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards thanks to the influence of his uncle D'Arcy Cooper and Viscount Trenchard.[2] Benson spent a period guarding Windsor Castle, and while there wrote a report on improving the ways in which the soldiers communicated.[1] In 1942 he was promoted to Major and transferred to the Special Operations Executive, where he stayed for two years until he was promoted to Colonel and transferred to the Ministry of Supply to help reorganise munitions factories.[2] Benson became Director of Operations (accounts), putting him in charge of 100,000 people, and by the time he left the army in 1945 he was an acting Brigadier.[2] After leaving the army he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of the work he had done.[3]

After returning to Coopers after the end of the Second World War, Benson became enthusiastic about expanding the firm, something the firm's senior partner Stuart Cooper disagreed with.[2] After several meetings in 1946 Cooper resigned, and Benson and his coworker Sydney John Pears took the reins of the company. They immediately overhauled the way the company was organised, and Benson published an internal manual governing how audits were to be conducted, which later became Cooper's Manual of Auditing, the standard textbook for accountancy students in the United Kingdom.[1][2]

In 1956 the American accounting firm Lybrand, Ross Brothers and Montgomery contacted Coopers and offered to sell them their London and Paris branches, an offer Benson accepted. This was seen as an opportunity to expand overseas, and from 1 January 1957 the company began working internationally and became known as Coopers & Lybrand.[2] By the time Benson retired from Coopers in 1975 the company had 2,207 employees in the United Kingdom and 16,179 overseas, and Coopers & Lybrand was a leading audit and accountancy firm.[1]

Other work

In 1956 Benson became a member of the Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales, a position he held until 1975.[4] He served as its Vice-President from 1965 to 1966, when he became President.[3] As President he saw the importance of international auditing standards, and was a founding member of the International Accounting Standards Committee.[5] Benson became its first Chairman in 1973, and was initially meant to retire after a year before he was persuaded to stay on until 1976.[5] After his retirement in 1975 his main focus was on his work as an advisor to the Bank of England, but he also took on various jobs for the British Government.

In 1976 he became chairman of the Royal Commission on Legal Services, which became known as the Benson Commission due to his involvement.[1] The Commission was asked to "examine the structure, organisation, training and regulation of the legal profession and to recommend those changes that would be desirable to the interests of justice",[6] and after three years produced a report "meticulously researched and backed by statistics, of the services given by the legal profession; it swept aside all cobwebs and displayed a deep understanding of all aspects of the framework and practices of the law".[1] The report did not go as far as some reformers desired;[1] it ruled out the possibility of partnerships between barristers,[7] upheld the idea that a split profession (one with both solicitors and barristers, in contrast to a fused profession)[8] and also rejected the suggestion to allow solicitors rights of audience in the High Court.[9]

Despite this it contained several organisational suggestions for a profession with little in the way of straightforward organisation, such as a Council of Legal Services to advise the Lord Chancellor and a single unified body for barristers, rather than having both the Inns of Court and the Bar.[1] Little of the report was acted on, but some sections were well received by the legal profession, and Benson was elected a Bencher of the Inner Temple in 1983.[2]

Family life

Benson married Anne Virginia "Ginny" Macleod on 2 September 1939. They had three children – Peter Benson in 1940, who later became a partner in Coopers & Lybrand and twins Michael and Phyllida Benson in 1943.[2] Both his wife and children survived Benson, who died on 5 March 1995 in Chichester, Sussex.[2]

Awards and recognition

Benson received many awards for his work, both official and industrial. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1946[10] and was raised to a Knight Grand Cross in 1971.[11] In 1981 he was made a life peer as Baron Benson, of Drovers in the County of West Sussex.[12] He became treasurer of the Open University in 1975 and a trustee of the Times Trust in 1967.[4] In 1983 he became an Honorary Bencher of the Inner Temple, and in 1984 he became the first living non-American to be inducted into the Accounting Hall of Fame.[3] In 1995 PricewaterhouseCoopers established a bursary in his name for students studying at the London School of Economics.[13]

References

Bibliography

  • Camfferman, Kees; Stephen A. Zeff (2007). Financial reporting and global capital markets: a history of the International Accounting Standards Committee, 1973-2000. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199296294.  
  • Jackson, Richard Meredith; J. R. Spencer (1989). Jackson's Machinery of Justice (8th ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521317673.  
  • Mothersole, Brenda; Ann Ridley (1999). A-level law in action (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning EMEA. ISBN 0333727800.  
  • White, Robin (1991). A Guide to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. London: Fourmat Publishing. ISBN 1851901205.  
  • Zander, Michael (2007). Cases and Materials on the English Legal System (10th ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521675405.  
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