Lyceum – Adam Grinde, Baker Tilly

By Tom Hanlon

GrindeServing International Clients

Adam Grinde, audit partner and international leader for Baker Tilly, shared a wealth of international business experience with students at an accounting lyceum on November 19. He delivered his message with both wisdom and wit, employing a few humorous video clips to support his points about cultural differences.

“I lived in Japan for a few years,” said Grinde, who added that he loved his time in that country. “But I was advised to buy an insurance policy for golf. Why? Because if you hit a hole in one there, you have to buy expensive gifts for those you are playing with.” He showed a clip of several Japanese golfers celebrating as their American golf partner hit a hole in one.

Grinde, who has more than 20 years of audit and advisory experience, is the company’s principal liaison with independent member firms of Baker Tilly International. “I work with 300 partners to try to serve multinational businesses more effectively,” he said.

What International Clients Need

With that in mind, he told the students what international clients are looking for. “Obviously they want a return on investment,” he said. “They’re looking for an ability to sell their product in another country that they currently don’t have in the United States; they’re looking at being cost efficient and avoid any double taxation or any kind of inefficient tax structures.

“It’s one thing to say we can do your audit or your tax compliance in the US, but to be able to say we can help you decide where to locate your European headquarters to be most tax advantageous is a whole new ballgame. We want to be that firm that sits in that middle space that can answer those types of questions.”

Grinde added that Baker Tilly has developed country service desks, staffed typically with natives from that country, to service international clients. “We want people there who know the languages of the country, who know the business issues of the country, who are passionate about the country,” he said. “We have desks that represent China, Germany, Israel, Mexico, the UK, Ireland, and Australia.”

Growth Areas in the Profession

Grinde noted that those who are interested in international tax will find opportunities in that area. “It’s an area that many US companies have money invested in overseas, trying to figure out ways to repatriate it, how to figure out the most tax efficient structure,” he said. “It’s become a hot area, a growth area.”

Grinde spoke to other growth areas for the profession, as reported by Vincent Huck in the International Accounting Bulletin:

  • Accountancy firms will be more integrated in cooperation and communication among their team members and will need a wide geographical coverage
  • Firms will be more inclusive of staff through flatter management systems and will undergo tremendous cultural change in order to foster quality and relevance of their work
  • Professionals will increasingly come out of the compliance function to become trusted economic players
  • Firms will need to gain trust from both their clients and the public at large

Maintaining Relevance in the Profession

Grinde showed a video clip of current Baker Tilly CEO Tim Christen in which Christen outlined the four main areas the profession must take to maintain its relevancy. Christen, who was recently named as chairman of the board of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), said that the profession must:

  1. Modernize its services. (“The need for nonfinancial assurance is all around us. The question is, how can the accounting profession provide that assurance?”)
  2. Increase the speed of everything. (“It’s keep up or be left behind. We must be faster to deliver our services and quicker to adapt to change. We have to learn faster, smarter, and in more ways. We must keep pace with the changes in business.”)
  3. Increase collaboration with others. (“Collaboration is critical in solving problems. We need to collaborate in more meaningful and timely ways.”)
  4. Create a professional environment of choice for the most trusted 21st century advisors. (“We need to change the way we relate to people and how we develop them. We need to develop the whole person, invest in people on a personal level. An employee’s experience with us should be all-encompassing: home, office, personal, professional. The future will be won by the firms that most successfully engage their teams.”)

Grinde echoed what Christen said about nonfinancial assurance. “We talk mostly about financial assurance, but when you think about the world of nonfinancial assurance, there’s a whole wealth of services that a profession like our could provide,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who think our profession is going to continue to drift in these directions, in addition to continuing to provide the audit, which is changing as well.

“You guys are on the forefront of change, in terms of tax audit services. It will change rapidly, and I think it’s going to be exciting.”

Valuing Employees

Grinde said that one of the biggest changes he’s seen in the profession is how a firm embraces its employees and values their opinions more.

“We treat people totally different from when I started my career,” he said. “We treat people with a respectful, all-encompassing manner. Companies have realized that people matter. It makes for flatter organizations where everyone’s opinion truly matters, and we have mechanisms where they can give their opinion.”

He also pointed out the traits that employees need to be successful.

“Be open,” he encouraged the students. “Try new things. Don’t be afraid to fail. You’ll fail many times. Don’t be full of yourself. Fully invest yourself in something. Don’t be rigid in your plan.

“If I find someone who has the skills, has the intelligence, has the education, and wants to learn, I’d say let’s go.”