Edward ‘Ed’ Nusbaum, outgoing CEO of Grant Thornton International, nominated for the 2017 TA & IAB lifetime achievement award

During Ed’s eight years at the helm of Grant Thornton International Ltd (GTIL), he has lead the international network incredibly successfully. During his tenure we have seen:

  • a 33% increase in global revenues from $3.6 billion to $4.8 billion
  • a 55% increase in global headcount from 30,379 to more than 47,000
  • a 26% increase in the total number of member firm partners from 2,568 to 3,235
  • a 39% increase in the number of offices around the world from 529 to 733
  • a committed focus and investment on the development and growth of people at Grant Thornton
  • Grant Thornton named by The Managing Partners' Forum as 'Best managed international firm' and ‘Best leadership development programme’
  • Universum naming Grant Thornton one of the 50 'World’s Most Attractive Global Employers' for three consecutive years.

Ed has spent more than 40 years in the accounting profession and has contributed to its growth, credibility and recognition. His tenure ends on 31 December 2017 as global CEO of Grant Thornton.

Globally, Ed has helped build Grant Thornton’s outstanding reputation and quality across the profession by being one of the key thought leaders who has regularly spoken out on key global accounting issues. He has represented a collective global voice of business and shared insights about the world economy. He has regularly featured on the BBC, CNN and CNBC as well as being published often in the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other major business outlets.

A respected senior leader

Ed chose Grant Thornton (GTUS) over numerous other offers from across the Big 8 accounting firms. He joined the Dallas office in 1986, eventually working in Philadelphia and Chicago. He quickly developed to become a visionary and respected senior leader, with the right interpersonal skills and business acumen that led to success in every role he owned – from partner to national director of assurance to national managing partner of professional services; to managing partner in the Philadelphia office; then US CEO.

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Bold leadership

Ed became CEO of GTUS in 2001. He brought innovative leadership into marketing, HR, tax and other areas. He championed the setup of a Grant Thornton University, an online continuous learning programme within the firm, and placed a greater focus on university campus recruitment. Improving Grant Thornton’s culture was also an important agenda item for him as well as Grant Thornton being a thought leader in the profession. His view was about taking a stand and being bold on key issues – because it was the right thing to do. Sometimes this challenged the profession and clients.

After just five months as CEO of GTUS, the Enron scandal hit. While other accounting firms remained silent, GTUS released Grant Thornton’s Five-Point Plan to Restore Public Trust, to place professional responsibilities ahead of other considerations. Clients, competitors, the media, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and lawmakers received the plan. It was widely followed in the press (New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Time Magazine), leading to CFO Magazine inviting Ed to an expert roundtable on how to restore trust in the profession. Four of the plan’s five points were ultimately included in the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act.

When the Sarbanes-Oxley became law in 2002, GTUS was the first accounting firm to actively support the Act in the media as well as in meetings with Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill.

The US Senate invited Ed to discuss the implementation of the SOX Act and how to restore investor confidence. He appeared alongside William McDonough, chair of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) together with the CEOs from the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), PwC and the Council of Institutional Investors.

Ed took a bold leadership stance around stock option expensing. He knew both sides of the argument well having served on the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Emerging Issues Task Force. His view was that transparency was key and that stock options should be expensed to give investors a clearer view of the corporate balance sheet. The Washington Post, USA Today and Dow Jones reported on this view. GTUS was the only major accounting firm to speak out on the issue. The firm took their position to Capitol Hill, meeting with a dozen Senators and Representatives in leading on this conversation.

During his nine years as GTUS CEO, revenues and workforce tripled under his leadership, with revenues at US$1.2 billion and the workforce raising to 5,000. Grant Thornton led the way as the fastest growing US accounting firm. Thanks to this fantastic growth, the firm won numerous 'Best Places to Work' awards as the culture grew positively; and US accounting professors voted Grant Thornton as the 'most ethical accounting firm'.

Speaking out as a global leader

In January 2010, Ed took the reins of the global network as the CEO of GTIL. His popularity and leadership allowed him to be re-elected for a second term in 2014.

Ed has always held strong and bold views. An example of this was related to the global changes on lease accounting. His position was on ensuring that the profession provides clearer information to the users of financial information: “We support the changes as the lack of transparency around operating leases needs to be addressed, as the information currently does not provide complete, readily understandable information about the obligations associated with operating leases.”

He spoke out on the EU’s Corporate Governance White Paper, asking for greater shareholder involvement in remuneration policy; triennial external evaluation of performance by boards; and dividing the duties of chairperson of the board and chief executive officer.

Under Ed, the firm spoke out on the EU Barnier commission to reform auditing, in addition to taking specific positons, he advocated for the users of financial information (transparency) as being the most important driver to the discussion.

Grant Thornton has always spoken out in the market about improving the role of women in business and board diversity, with Ed taking a personal role in driving this communication of the need for more women in senior management and greater diversity in the boardroom.

The firm under Ed also created the Grant Thornton global CSR steering committee, leading to the start of a global CSR event where people in more than 80 Grant Thornton firms around the world have helped (and continue to help) local communities unlock their potential for growth.

Ed’s accounting profession leadership

The contribution that Ed has given to the profession has been many, including:

  • Financial Accounting Foundation (FAF) Board of Trustees.
  • Global Accounting CEO Committee (six largest accounting organisations)
  • International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC)
  • Board of governors for the Center for Audit Quality
  • SEC’s Advisory Committee on Improvements to Financial Reporting
  • Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Advisory Council
  • FASB’s Small Business Advisory Committee
  • FASB Emerging Issues Task Force
  • AICPA Talent Task Force Steering Committee
  • AICPA SEC Practice Section Executive Committee
  • AICPA Professional Issues Task Force
  • Auditing Standards Board (ASB).

Additionally, Ed has always been an active advocate of supporting the community. He has served as Corporate chairman for the Breast Cancer Network of Strength 'Walk to Empower'; been a member of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Corporate Executive Board and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; and as a Board of directors of the Global Fund for Children.

In closing, Ed has had a tremendous impact on the accounting profession, providing a voice based on strong principles that has put the interests of the profession before his own. He will be remembered as one of the great CEOs in Grant Thornton’s history.