Year ahead Q&A: Scott Barnes, CEO Grant Thornton

What will define your firm’s strategy in 2015, and how will this be implemented?
We set out a clearly defined strategy for growth, Ambition 2015, three years ago. This is serving us well, and we have already achieved our turnover target of £500m this summer. And there are still elements that we continue to work at around client satisfaction and market share targets. We have of course, also been considering what lies beyond 2015, and undertook a wide and broad exercise amongst all our stakeholders to imagine how the future environment in which we will operate will look. Using theses insights, we are shaping our strategy beyond 2015 and shall be sharing it with the market sometime soon.

What service lines will be most critical to your firm’s growth during the next year and how will you capitalise on this?
We are focused on supporting growth companies, by providing bespoke, client centric advice, across all lines of service and offering sector expertise. Additionally, two sectors that will continue to be key to growth, are the public sector work and financial services. Our wider assurance offering is also performing strongly, and overall we see the provision of specialist non-audit services to large corporates as a big opportunity and have been building strong relationships with this market.

What challenges will the wider accountancy profession face over the coming year?
Talent attraction and retention, like other industries, is an increasing issue. This year we helped launch an industry-wide scheme called Access Accountancy, which commits us and others in the industry to improving social mobility within the profession by providing quality and rewarding insights into working for a firm like ours, to disadvantaged young people. As well as widening the talent pool, this will also create more diverse business advisers to address our clients’ needs. Alongside this, as a firm, we have dropped academic hurdles and adopted a holistic approach to assessing candidates and how we can help them become future business advisers.

How will the business environment change in 2015, and what impact will that have on the mix of services clients require?
Generally, things are going to improve in 2015. Our core dynamic MSB client base, has shown tremendous resilience through the downturn, set to contribute around £294bn to UK GDP in 2014. They have increased in number, productivity, and overall turnover. Given this level of growth, our clients require agility from us, across all services. We do however, anticipate an international drive over the 12/24 months and utilising our international network further. Whilst we already work for c40% of the FTSE350, we anticipate this will increase, largely across our wider assurance offering, specialist tax and advisory services, where we have strong niche teams of specialists.

What policies should the next government undertake to improve the environment for UK corporates?
Since launching our Agents of Growth manifesto in March, we have been in an on-going dialogue with the government about how they could help support dynamic MSBs. They have been listening, and we were delighted that in the Autumn Statement, the chancellor announced a number of initiatives for MSBs in areas we had identified they needed support. Going forward, the priority should be on increased productivity and trade in high value goods and services. That calls for continued innovation across all sectors, a gear shift in UK exporting and focus on attracting and developing talent and the skills business needs. We also need a greater emphasis on lifting the burden from MSBs.

This is the second of a series of seven managing partner interviews about the year ahead. The full set of Q&A’s can be read in the Accountancy Age App

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