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Passion into profit – new GT boss explains her shared enterprise vision

“CONNECTING into people’s beliefs and passions” lies at the heart of what makes a great business, great.

And it’s central to what drives people to want to join, hang around and create value in an organisation.  That’s the fervently held view of Sacha Romanovitch, CEO-elect of Grant Thornton.

And it’s Romanovitch who has set out – along with 99% of the firm’s 185 partners – to become the first major accountancy firm to launch an all employee consultation on a model for shared enterprise which will empower all 4,500 of its people have a say and a stake in Grant Thornton.

Romanovitch is focused on turning the company she has worked at since 1994 into the “go-to firm for growth, building on our position to help influence and shape a vibrant economy”.

And while cynics may wryly balk at the somewhat lofty aims, Romanovitch is adamant it will work.

Role models

She and GT’s partners have taken inspiration from businesses that have adopted a business-owned model such as Wholefoods, John Lewis and “some really inspirational companies in Netherlands”.

“Base salaries are not changing,” she says. “But it’s all open. The intention would be that is something beyond what they have already. If we achieve what we think we can in terms of this ambition, it needs everyone to play a part in it and they will all share in the superior rewards from doing that.”

While the specifics have yet to be thrashed out – the reward structure will have a long term element, as it is “not about a quick buck, but a commitment over a number of years”, and a “qualifying criteria – designed by our people”.

The Oxford-educated yoga practitioner insisted GT’s partners “will not be any better off by this” and stated that the only element of partner self-interest is that the only way the new vision can be realised “is if all our people are part of it”.

And rather than the management team “going into a dark room and proposing something, we’re actually going through a process through to 1st July of engaging people across the firm.” This will be achieved through the firm’s 60 elected representatives garnering input throughout May and feeding that back to help shape the programme.

She insists that the cynics who believe its partners are playing an angle, or are looking for a possible tax advantage through the new model, are wrong.

“The partners who’ve chosen to be at GT, most of them could have roles at numerous other financial institutions where they could earn significantly more money, if money was their sole motivation, but what’s common among partners at GT is what they want to do is great work with their clients, create great value for their clients and make sure were doing the right thing by our clients.

She cites a recent case whereby a partner, working on a major case for a client where “something had gone against them” in a court ruling.

“If we were just operating for self-interest,” says Romanovitch, “we would have just said appeal, because by appealing there was no loss for us and we’d just get more fees. But for us it was ‘is there sufficient likelihood of this being good for client to do this?’ so we went through three different counsels’ opinions to get a view. I know if they were just financially motivated, a different course of action could have ensued.”

Ownership conversations

Such a radical departure from the traditional partner-owned and run structure has “been a conversation” in the partnership for some time now.

“At a partner meeting last year, one of the partners stood up from the floor and said we need to do something different to reward all of our people for the great work they do – and that was the only question from floor that got a great round of applause from the whole room.

“There’s an emerging belief that our people have stood by us during some really tough times, we are in a great place as a firm and 4,500 people standing together will be stronger than 185 partners.”

The employee-empowering approach will allow the firm to become much more agile and fleet of foot, argues Romanovitch, because if “you get everyone involved in running the business and really anchored into what you’re trying to achieve then you deliver much better client service and results”.

“As we go forward into the future, the hope is that as we create more value for our clients that hopefully generates more value for the firm, that more of that will be shared with our people, rather than partners keeping it all to ourselves”.

Sustainability and staff satisfaction

She says it is undisputed fact that shared enterprise model businesses are sustainably delivering great value for clients, are getting the highest client satisfaction ratings and the best employee satisfaction and the best results, why wouldn’t you want to replicate that success.

“My practice area is leadership and culture and over the past few years I’ve had great opportunity to both work with businesses that are doing really well but also see what happens in businesses that maybe haven’t got it quite right. “

Romanovitch is using that insight and experience to try and ensure that GT helps transform itself an even better example of the former.

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