Stephen Chipman, the former CEO of Grant Thornton LLP, has become CEO of Radius, a provider of international accounting, finance, banking, tax, HR, legal and compliance support for global companies, based in Boston.
Chipman worked for Grant Thornton for 34 years, rising to the CEO post of GT’s U.S. firm in 2010 and then becoming senior vice chairman last year before announcing his retirement last August (see Grant Thornton Senior Vice Chairman Chipman to Retire Early). Born in England, he served three years running Grant Thornton China Management Corporation, GT’s Chinese firm, with more than 2,500 people in 17 offices.
Chipman takes over the CEO post at Radius from Chris Stone, who stepped down as CEO when the company relocated its headquarters from the United Kingdom to Boston, but Stone will remain a member of Radius’s board of directors.
“I’m really excited about it,” Chipman told Accounting Today on Thursday. “I spent the largest part of my career serving international clients and businesses that are growing and expanding overseas. I spent a big part of my career at Grant Thornton working on expanding Grant Thornton’s business overseas. I have a passion for international business and helping businesses expand internationally, so when I learned about Radius, who really are a unique professional services organization that have a turnkey set of solutions to help businesses expand internationally and deal with all of the challenges and issues and potential frustrations to get their businesses up and running in international markets, it was really of interest.”
Chipman was also impressed by the foundations of the company. “They’ve really recruited and built great technical competency and expertise in international accounting, tax, legal, HR, a whole variety of business issues that companies face when they expand internationally,” he said. “In combination with that, they have a terrific delivery capability that can produce high-quality financial, accounting, payroll and business reporting that help someone run their businesses. A third element is a terrific software application that allows a CFO or a controller to look across their entire portfolio of international businesses and get all the financial information they need to close the books, to manage the business, as simple as making sure that people are getting paid in overseas locations.”
He recounted a meeting Thursday with a venture capital-backed software startup in Boston that recently raised a third round of funding. “They’re rapidly expanding into three or four international locations,” said Chipman. “The CFO told me that to be able to pick up the phone and call Radius and have a turnkey solution to get all of those operations in place, with people on the ground and all the support and resources necessary to allow him to move into those markets, was of huge value to him. For me personally it’s a great fit, and the company is very well positioned for tremendous growth as more and more businesses expand internationally.”
Radius is a private equity-backed company, which should provide a big contrast to working in a CPA firm. “I’m really looking forward to being in an entrepreneurial environment,” said Chipman. “Grant Thornton, actually, as a large professional services firm goes, is pretty entrepreneurial, but the partnership model is a different model. Radius is a private equity-backed business. We’re moving very quickly. We’re all about speed and response to our clients, and speed and response to our own growth agenda, yet at the same time it has a lot of components that are very familiar to me, not least of which is really creating a unique client experience that differentiates you from the competition. That is a very consistent overlap with my experience in public accounting as well as the focus on people and attracting great talent and building great teams to deliver on that client service experience. It’s just doing it at a faster pace and in a more entrepreneurial environment where you have external capital supporting you.”
Grant Thornton has been doing some work for Radius, but Chipman said he got to know the company independently from his role at GT.
“The former CEO is based in the U.K., and the company made a strategic decision to shift the center of the global business to the United States, where they saw the biggest market opportunity,” he explained. “As such, they asked the U.K. CEO to relocate here, and he wasn’t in a personal position to do that. They looked to recruit a U.S. CEO, and that’s how I got on the radar.”
Nevertheless, the two businesses do have some existing relationships. “Grant Thornton does some work for Radius,” said Chipman. “They do the internal control audit for the SOC reporting, which is just by coincidence. Curiously, I will be a client now, which is exciting for me. Also, in some of the overseas markets where we help our clients we have some relationships with some Grant Thornton member firms who provide us with some specialist advice in some challenging markets where Radius clients are operating.”
However, Chipman sees some important distinctions between Radius and accounting firms like GT. “I think it’s important to know that Radius has a model and is providing a service that really no one is providing,” he said. “Organizations including some of the public accounting firms do bits of what Radius does, but no one does the turnkey soup to nuts service offering that Radius provides. We’re beyond the accounting and tax side. We’re helping with human resource issues, getting expatriates on the ground, dealing with contractual issues, really a broad range of business, financial, tax, HR and legal issues that businesses face when they move overseas, so it’s a much broader scope of services than what you see in a traditional accounting firm model. And of course being outside the scope of the regulatory environment of the profession, it’s a more innovative environment in some senses because we can really react to our clients’ needs. Obviously we’re focused on quality, but we are not restricted by the regulatory environment that the large accounting firms operate under.”
Radius provides some outsourcing of back-office functions for its clients. The company’s OverseasConnect software allows a CFO to gain visibility into data about a company to help manage the business. Radius also provides advisory and consulting functions for clients, along with analysis and other information.
“When a company is getting started, they need a lot of consulting and a lot of advice,” said Chipman. “They don’t even know the questions they need to ask.”
Chipman hopes to use his experience in China to expand Radius’s presence in Asia region.
“That’s a really important market for us,” he said. “We have an office in Beijing. I think we have in the range of 30 to 50 people on the ground in China. It’s certainly one of the markets we see our U.S. clients at Radius expanding into rapidly. We have a tremendous amount of growth opportunity in helping U.S. businesses expand. That trend is going to continue and accelerate. At the same time there’s an interesting trend of Chinese businesses investing in the United States, and we certainly see an opportunity over time to be an expert and a resource for those Asia businesses coming into the United States, which provides an interesting avenue for growth for us beyond just serving U.S. businesses.”
Chipman is enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by his new job. “I’m pretty excited to be here,” he said. “I was so lucky to have this great career at Grant Thornton and do so many wonderful things, but the consistent thing I enjoyed the most is my passion for working with international businesses and helping them grow. To find an organization like Radius where I can really leverage all of that experience in helping international businesses and do it with an organization that is entirely focused on that, that is really compatible and able to collaborate with the large accounting firms to help their clients as well as a wide variety of businesses that are expanding internationally, I couldn’t believe my luck. I’m thrilled to be here, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to drive the growth agenda here, which I think is really tremendous for this organization.”
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