December 15, 2018

Some Grant Thornton U.K. Partners Are Trying to Undermine CEO, Say She Is Pushing a ‘Socialist Agenda’

Grant Thornton U.K. CEO Sacha Romanovitch isn’t very popular with a small group of partners who say she is pursuing a “socialist agenda” and has instilled a “culture of fear” at the firm where there are severe repercussions for speaking out, according to a Sept. 21 Financial Times report.

Romanovitch, who became the first female chief executive of a major U.K. accounting firm in 2015, is weeks away from launching a bid for a second term as CEO. But an anonymous note sent to several media outlets, which states it represents the views of 15 partners or directors at the firm, explains why Romanovitch should be given the boot.

FT wrote:

The note’s harsher criticisms claimed that Ms Romanovitch was pursuing a “socialist agenda”, that the firm was “out of control” and has “no focus on profitability.”

The firm’s profits before tax fell 12 per cent to £72m in the 12 months after Ms Romanovitch took over, although they rose 8 per cent to £78m in the following year, which ended in June 2017.

Ms Romanovitch has restructured the firm so that some of its profits are shared with all staff rather than just its partners. She has also repositioned it to focus on “profits with purpose,” which has meant dropping less savoury clients in an attempt to grow sustainably.

Maybe this group of partners is pissed because they don’t think profits should be shared with all of the grunts, just among themselves? If so, that’s kind of shitty. But then again, upper management doesn’t have the greatest reputation for treating lower-level staff with respect, according to one GTer in London.

Three anonymous Grant Thornton partners, who claimed they weren’t responsible for the note, told FT that even though they thought some of the complaints in the note were “exaggerated,” they “sympathized with some of the grievances it contained—including the criticism of the firm’s recent financial performance, its heavy focus on marketing and branding over profits, and the leadership team’s heavy-handed response to recent criticism.”

According to FT, there are partners who believe that Robert Hannah, a 30-year veteran of Grant Thornton, was removed from the firm’s strategic leadership team recently because he had the cojones to question the direction of the firm:

The change has been criticized by several partners who fear he was effectively demoted for speaking out. Mr Hannah did not respond to a request for comment.

Romanovitch is aware there are some partners at the firm who are trying to stab her in the back, but she calls the implication that partners are unable to question the decisions she makes “deeply frustrating” as there were “lots of forums for partners to give feedback,” according to FT.

She added:

“A small cadre of partners will find it hard we are making decisions that will depress profits in the short term but will help profits in the long term. What has been the challenge with more establishment partners is helping them to get their heads around the fact that profits and purpose are not incompatible. If profits get unhinged from purpose it might not hurt you now, but it will come back and bite you on the bum.”

Despite the haters, Romanovitch is popular with the firm’s 4,500 employees and most of its 200 partners, supporters say. They also noted that Grant Thornton’s brand recognition is at an all-time high. But considering it’s Grant Thornton, that’s probably isn’t saying much.

A partnership oversight board will either reappoint Romanovitch or choose a new CEO in November, according to FT.

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