When Grant Thornton recently appointed India leader Vishesh Chandiok on its global governance board, it reflected the country's growing importance as a market for the London-headquartered professional services firm.
At 41, Chandiok may be the youngest member of the board ever but points out that he doesn't lack for experience. "I started at 17 and have been working for the past 24 years," said the national managing partner at Grant Thornton India, which he has been heading since 2007.
The firm has grown in a decade to 2,500 people from 300. Chandiok sees this quadrupling in the next five years — 10,000 by 2020.
This has come while the Big Four professional services companies — EY, PwC, Deloitte and KPMG — have been gaining market share in India, partly through acquisitions. They've expanded at an estimated compounded annual growth rate of 16-20per cent in the past few years. Their combined India revenue is put at Rs 9,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore.
In the next five years, the Big Four are set to grow even bigger, given the plethora of rule changes that companies need to abide by.
Among these are the Companies Act, the proposed goods and services tax ( GST), audit rotation, changes in accounting standards, place of effective management (POEM), base erosion and profit shifting ( BEPS). The Big Four are poaching talent and teams from each other and elsewhere as they cope with growing business. Some of Grant Thornton's better-performing partners and directors have also been tapped. In the face of this, Grant Thornton says it's been able to not just retain employees but attract people as well.
Chandiok attributes this to the firm's focus on one key aspect. "A lot of what you call the Big Four is largely strategy consulting firms. Compliance is not their core business anymore, while for us compliance is a core business," he said. Grant Thornton may not be too far behind the Big Four if consulting and strategy are excluded, he said. He also said the firm isn't competing with consultancy firms such as Accenture, McKinsey or Bain for the same reason: Compliance - including valuations, due diligence, tax compliance and internal audit — is the focus.
"Competition to retain the best talent is not just from within the accounting or consulting firms as today there are amazing opportunities with startups or with private equity," said Chandiok.
"It's not hard finding those additional 7,500 people provided we maintain our differentiation and don't focus on selling and billings but on making a difference to our clients."
In the Big Four firms, partners have a revenue target and part of their remuneration is based on that aspect. This ranges from Rs 6.5 crore to Rs 13 crore annually. Those who miss this may get sidelined or be asked to leave.