New Grant Thornton CEO visits

Six weeks after Stephen Chipman returned to the U.S. from a nearly two-year posting overseas, the incoming CEO of accounting firm Grant Thornton made Wichita one of about a dozen stops.

Chipman was at the firm's Thorn Drive office Thursday and Friday.

He said it was a multi-purpose visit.

It was all in preparation for when Chipman takes the helm of the accounting and advisory firm's U.S. operations Jan. 1.

"It's really important... to reach out and be accessible to people in the organization and also to listen and understand what's going on in the offices," he said. "That's certainly something you've got to do, I believe, at the beginning of your tenure in a leadership role like this."

Chipman is succeeding Edward Nusbaum.

Chipman knows Wichita well. Before his 2007 posting to Grant Thornton's China office, he was based in Dallas and oversaw the Wichita office and others as U.S. central region managing partner.

"It's nice to be back," he said. "I miss

my trips."

Chipman said the Wichita office "has been a strong performer in the firm during a tough year for everybody.

"I certainly wanted to come and recognize the efforts and performance of the office," he said of his visit here.

He said he also wanted to meet with some of the firm's Wichita clients, whom he said were "very significant" not only to the local office, but the entire firm. He declined to name those clients.

And Chipman said he got what he came for in terms of employee feedback, between a meeting Thursday with all of the Wichita office's employees and others with smaller groups of managers and partners.

What struck him the most, he said, was the number of questions he got from employees about the long-term strategic direction of Grant Thornton.

"That tells me that our people are really thinking about the broader strategy and issues that the profession and our firm is facing," Chipman said. "This is a group of people who are really thinking carefully about the long-term future... they're not just focused on the short-term issues, which frankly in this environment you'd expect."

And from Chipman's perspective, China is a big part of Grant Thornton's future.

"It's a challenge," he said of China. "I don't speak the language and the profession and business environment is very different there.

"But it's exciting. I mean, it's a place that's changing incredibly fast and you feel like you're on the new frontier (there)."

China and the Asian continent are two critical regions for the firm going forward, he said.

"For the organization as a whole, the growth rates in professional services in China are going to be far greater over the next 10 years than they will be in mature markets like the U.S., U.K., Canada," he said. "So we have to be participating."

And more of the firm's U.S. clients are recognizing the growing importance of China, including those in Wichita, he said.

"When we talk to organizations and family-owned businesses, maybe five, 10 years ago they would have never thought about doing business in China," Chipman said. "And now it's on their radar screen."

He said the privately held firm, which according to business Web site has a little more than $1 billion in revenue annually, had flat revenue growth in its fiscal year that ended in July.

Chipman said flat in today's economic environment "is a terrific achievement."

"Our outlook is that the economy is going to remain tough for our business for the next fiscal year," he said. "We do believe that we can grow. We do believe there is an opportunity for us to increase our market share."

That's largely because of the firm's focus on expanding its global business, as well as the strength of business in industry sectors such as health care, emerging technology and nonprofits.

"We see a lot of positive signs within our firm that give us cause for optimism," Chipman said.