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May 31, 2009

Grant Thornton International picks Nusbaum for global chief executive

Grant Thornton International has chosen Ed Nusbaum, the leader of its US firm, as its next global chief executive. Nusbaum will assume the role in January 2010 when David McDonnell retires after eight years in the position.

He will lead the sixth largest accountancy network with combined revenue of about $4 billion and a workforce of about 30,000 people, according to International Accounting Bulletin data.

Although the handover is several months away, Nusbaum told this publication that his role will focus on four key areas: to ensure member firms are growing and the international body facilitates growth; to facilitate, co-ordinate and provide tools at an international level in an effort to improve member firm service; to retain, develop and lure the best talent; and, to provide member firms with tools in order to improve operational efficiency.

The biggest short-term challenge facing the network, according to Nusbaum, is the economic downturn, which has increased competition and lowered fees.

“Competitiveness will remain [a key issue] over the next few years,” Nusbaum predicted. “This is not about three months or six months or even a nine months downturn. I think there is a shift in the competitiveness and increasing efforts to be more efficient and effective in our operations. Grant Thornton has to be a leader in those efforts.”

Nusbaum also notes the downturn has generated new opportunities in restructuring, business recovery and reorganisation work.

He has been chief executive of the US member firm since 2001. Under his leadership the firm tripled in size, with annual revenues growing from $400 million to $1.2 billion

Before becoming the US chief executive, Nusbaum served as the firm’s national managing partner of professional services, managing partner of the Philadelphia office and national director of assurance services based in New York.

He was appointed to the Security and Exchange Commission’s Advisory Committee on Improvement to Financial Reporting, a group that issued recommendations last August on how the financial reporting system could be made more useful for stakeholders.

Nusbaum has been a vocal commentator on several contentious issues in the US, such as the need for stock-option expensing; prohibiting auditors from also performing internal controls work; the need for principles-based accounting; and revising lease accounting rules.

More recently, he threw his support behind key performance indicators as the next step in financial reporting transparency.

In the US, it is notoriously rare for an accounting firm leader to be outspoken. It is Nusbaum’s belief that the public is “better off” if firm leaders take on more thought leadership positions.

“One of the things the Center for Audit Quality can do is speak as many firms unison, which is perhaps stronger than any single firm on its own,” he said.

“But having said that, I believe all of the firms should also individually speak out their minds on whatever the issues are facing the profession, facing the business community, facing regulation.”

David McDonnell has led Grant Thornton from a network with combined revenue of $1.8 billion in 2001 to more than double that today.

GRANT THORNTON INTERNATIONAL

Vital statistics

Combined revenue

$4bn (year to 30 Sept 2008)

Growth

14 percent (fiscal year 2007-08)

Offices

498

Partners

2,539

Professionals

21,822

Total workforce

29,890

Source: International Accounting Bulletin

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