Grant Thornton’s Ed Nusbaum: Managing Global Growth

At the time, the accounting giant had operations in 100 countries—many of which were significantly affected, one way or another, by the downturn. “The U.S. [and] Continental Europe were hurt significantly, the UK not quite as badly, but places like Australia [and] Canada were doing fine—and China was still booming,” he recalls. “It impacted different countries in different ways, and dealing with that from a global perspective was challenging.”

Still, by 2012, the accounting powerhouse was logging a 10.4% growth rate. Revenues continued to climb in 2013 with a jump of 8.1% to $4.5 billion, affirming Grant Thornton as the fastest-growing accounting firm in the world for two years running. Under Nusbaum’s tenure, it also extended its global reach. Today, the firm operates in more than 130 countries with offices outside the U.S. accounting for about 71% of revenues.

Given his success steering the company toward stronger revenues and a larger global footprint, Nusbaum’s unanimous reappointment to a second three-year term by the firm’s board of governors back in March came as little surprise. However, the pressure is on to continue the firm’s global growth path.

“I think the biggest concern of companies right now is that the world is in such flux, nobody knows if the recovery is real, how long it will last and what the implications are,” says Nusbaum. “For example, there are clear signs of recovery even in places like Spain and Greece, but a lot of uneasiness [exists] about how resilient that recovery is and how long it will last. And, of course, everybody’s worried about whether or not they should be investing more in Asia.”

Coupled with the various political conflicts unfolding around the world, those concerns are making everyone—companies, investors, consumers, employees—uneasy. Uneasiness, history has taught us, tends to dampen economic growth. CEOs today also point to the U.S.’s onerous regulatory environment and high corporate tax rate as crippling business growth and—by extension—economic growth.

“Five years after Sarbanes-Oxley, if you asked CFOs—not CEOs—whether they were better off, they would say they were.”

At the same time, there is some merit in efforts to enact stronger controls, says Nusbaum, who acknowledges that accounting firms have benefited across the board from the need to comply with more stringent requirements, but also argues that those measures have helped curtail fraud. “Five years after Sarbanes-Oxley, if you asked CFOs—not CEOs—whether they were better off, they would say they were,” he says. They have better controls, better systems and less hassle from crazy ideas about derivatives. So some good has resulted from it. There’s no doubt in my mind that some good has also come from Dodd-Frank.

“Going forward, the challenge will be for both businesses and the accounting firms that service them to promote changes in regulation that can help businesses but still protect investors,” he adds. “Our role is to find out how we can benefit our clients; but more importantly, what’s right for the overall business community and the capital markets system.”

" Jennifer Pellet : As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.."