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January 28, 2023

Is There a Hidden Message in This Interview with Grant Thornton’s Stephen Chipman?

As we've mentioned on several occasions here, when the media profiles Big 4 bigwigs, the revelations are far less interesting than, say, a movie star-governor. If touchy subjects are addressed, they are glossed over fairly quickly to move on to charity work, perseverance, or family life. It's like a heart-warming after-school special. Grant Thornton CEO Stephen Chipman is the latest to lend an abbreviated version of his career for our reading displeasure but since we've covered the banality of these interviews before (and this one is no exception), we'll simply call attention to one passage that needs analysis:

Chipman wants to double Grant Thornton's market share within five years, a goal he said can be reached both by attracting new clients and acquiring smaller firms. But he's not looking to become "the next No. 5 in the new Big Five. That's not our strategy. We want to become the best firm, the leading firm in a well-defined part of the marketplace. Think of us as BMW to the Big Three automakers."

If you're a car enthusiast, you may take exception with SC's likening of GT to BMW, but what's really interesting is the Big Three automakers analogy. Maybe we're reading too much into this, but if the "Big Three" is supposed to be the "Big Four," there is obviously a missing player here (I'll leave to you all to decide who that player is). Now, it's unlikely that Chipper intentionally used this example to prod one of Grant Thornton's larger competitors, but what if something in his subconscious leaked out – a classic Freudian slip? It could be that this interview was the perfect opportunity for something that has been "dynamically repressed" for some time and a slip of the tongue occurred.

But what if we're wrong and this is an intentional dig at one of the entrenched powers in the accounting industry? It could be that Stephen has his eye on a specific firm who has not earned his respect. A firm that has wronged him or the world in some way that he has never forgotten. An institution that he sees as pure evil and one that does not deserve to be recognized because it would go against everything that he, Stephen Chipman, feels that is just in the world of professional services. A competitor that causes him to stare into the mirror every morning and promise to himself that, SO HELP HIM GOD, it will be vanquished for the good of the capital markets. Could it be that there is a nemesis out there for him and that this vapid interview allowed him to utter his warning call?   

Meh. It's doubtful. But it does serve as a perfect opportunity for armchair psychoanalysis. Speculate away.

Executive Profile: Stephen Chipman, CEO of Grant Thornton LLP [CT]

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