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Ex-Employee Chronicles Grant Thornton’s Gutting of CCR After Acquisition

A few Accounting News Roundups ago, Colin linked to a story about Grant Thornton's new tax hub in Bangalore.

In that article, GT CEO Stephen Chipman enthusiastically declared his own tax return is prepared by Indians in Bangalore, which is fine for him. What Colin didn't highlight was this quote, in which Chipman declares hiring in Chicago "dead" and pledges to put his all into India:

"The old model of me hiring people in Chicago, to work in Chicago is dead. And when you look across the landscape, the biggest and highest potential for professional talent in the world is in India," Chipman explained.

We pull this quote out now after one victim of Grant Thornton's philosophy has written a piece on the pain of being elbowed out by an acquisition. Ryan Clancey started out his career at Boston-based Wolf & Co., a "smaller firm and has a spotless reputation when it comes to financial institutions in New England," according to him.

After a few years of long commutes and even longer hours, he made a jump to Carlin, Charron and Rosen ("CCR"). Not only did the move save him precious commuting time, but he found his new firm to be every bit as good culturally as his last and states:

[A]t its core [CCR] cared about the people who worked there and their families as well. Even during the late summer when corporate extension returns are due peoples hours were kept to a minimum, which is rare in corporate public accounting. I was shocked when I didn’t have to work a single Saturday in August or September of my first year there.

Sounds great, right? Well yeah, until the firm was sold to Grant Thornton:

November 14, 2011 was a Monday like any other, no one wanted to be there but everyone was at work. A firm wide meeting had been called at the Westborough headquarters but no one really thought much of it. We all arrived in the 2nd floor conference room to the setup of video screens at the front of the room. Everyone, and I mean everyone from the firm was in this meeting. Well, except one person, our president and CEO who was holed up by himself in the Providence office and who appeared on the video screens in front of us. I am not even sure if there was someone to turn the camera on and off. It was like he was in a bunker. This move never sat well with any of us and probably never will.

I don’t really remember how he said it but he told us that CCR had been sold to Grant Thornton, a much larger firm based out of Chicago. I am not going to get into all sorts of statistics here about GT but they a [sic] top ten firm in size although they like to remind everyone that they are not one of the “big four” firms. We were told that our firm’s cultures were very similar (this would become a joke of epic proportions in the coming months) and that we would hear about our futures in the coming weeks. We filed out of that room broken with more questions than answers.

Warning: any time they talk about a good match in firm culture with a much larger firm that has just bought yours, you can pretty much guarantee that nothing will be the same.

By December 1st, a quarter of the firm was gone, laid off. The rest of us were offered similar jobs and were told that not much would be changing in the immediate future. We went into the winter holiday break with a certain sense of optimism that everything would be okay in the end.

We couldn’t have been more incorrect. Busy season in public accounting is a grind. 60-70 hour weeks right through the winter until the April 15th deadline. It seems like you go forever without seeing daylight or your significant other. A lot of firms, like Wolf and CCR, have a minimum threshold of 50 billable hours a week with Saturdays being mandatory. GT was a different animal. We would get 4am emails from the head of the tax department that they were bumping up the minimum 5 hours on a couple occasions and we were continuously told to work harder with what seemed like little praise for our efforts. Towards the end, many of us were going in at 8am and leaving well after 9pm Monday through Saturday.

Fed up with this new grind, Ryan left the firm in May of 2012. "In the year after I left the defections and firings piled up to the magnitude that I didn’t know a single person that worked there anymore," he said. 

This is an fascinating read, especially in light of KPMG's acquisition of a small firm with a good reputation — Rothstein Kass. The grumblings from RK employees weren't exactly a secret and it will be interesting to see how the transition for RK employees will go.

If you've been through an acquisition by a larger firm — Big 4, Dynamic 6, or whatever size — we want to hear your story. Email us or share below.