Talent 15.5 does Bradenham: Kit’s Night at the Manor

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I (Kit, a Public Sector Audit trainee) am sitting at the back of a busy room on the second floor of Bradenham manor house in Buckinghamshire. As I sit and listen I can’t help but think… about all of the talent in this room – there is some serious talent. But perhaps we should go back to the beginning of this story…

It was a week after my first day in public sector audit, on the 14th of January, when I received my invitation to Grant Thornton’s orientation event for new starters: Talent 15.5. (The ‘.5’ indicating that my cohort is in between the main August/September intakes of 2015 and 2016). Other than the dates and the location – at Grant Thornton’s own Bradenham Manor near High Wycombe – details of the event were elusive and hushed – much like an MI6 mission.

Arriving fashionably late…

So, at 5 o’clock on the 9th of February I met fellow ‘newbies’ from commercial audit in the lobby of the Euston office and we made our way to Bradenham. Upon arrival we were greeted by the sound of laughter and chatter wafting from the living room area beyond reception where we joined the nearly 50 new recruits to introduce ourselves and mingle over a glass of champagne.

A short while later we were welcomed to Talent 15.5 and congratulated on being offered and accepting jobs at Grant Thornton by partner Paul Naylor, who is the practice leader for Cambridge. We made our way through to the dining room where we were treated to an amazing curry and pancake feast. (In fact, I should probably just mention here as an aside: the food served at Bradenham is outrageously good and this opinion is unanimous).

It’s Quiz time!

I was sat on a table of six; one from Reading, two from Finsbury Square and two others from Euston – though in the actuarial and national communications departments. After a chat and a laugh during the main course, our attentions turned to the more serious matter of the much anticipated pub quiz. Rumours of a mighty team riding on the back of two successive victories at previous training events had spread like wildfire during dinner and high expectations were placed on them to perform again. It was not to be however, and the mighty Oscar Quiztorious fell to a plucky band of challengers from the other side of the room*.

Day 2

At 9.30am, following a full English breakfast, a cup of tea and a smoothie, I made my way upstairs and sat in the large room, ‘Lovelace’, among the new joiners and along with some noticeable new faces. CEO Sacha Romanovitch took to the stage, followed by our Head of Operations Robert Hannah. Their speeches gave us all an insight into the culture of the firm as well as the journeys to where they are today and how this had helped influence their decisions as leaders at Grant Thornton.

 I couldn’t do them justice by trying to summarise them here, but everyone left the room with a sense of optimism and a newfound sense of confidence that their contribution would make a difference to the firm, and allow them to achieve things that had previously seemed out of reach for new joiners.

 It was clear that our work and opinions are all valued and that a tremendous amount of trust is placed in us from the start of our careers by those who have made the company what it is today.

So, the fun begins…

Red and blue teams went their separate ways and were directed to the activities they were taking part in. Each activity coordinator engaged my group enthusiastically as we moved between different exercises; all of which were designed to help realise our potential at Grant Thornton. My personal favourite – learning to communicate effectively – with one person describing a picture to another, who tried to draw it without seeing it.

We let this sink in over some tea and biscuits before returning upstairs to Lovelace. The next session, ‘Meet the Players’, was a chance to hear the stories of those throughout the firm at different stages of their careers and to begin to think about how we might like to shape our own paths.

Associates Nas and Mike described their first year at Grant Thornton to give us an idea of what the next months would hold in store. Newly qualified Chris told us of his path to finishing his exams, and highlighted how, from simply asking someone if he could try something out, his entire career switched track from where he had initially anticipated. Associate Director Sandy shared some experiences of his career, how it had changed as his circumstances and interests changed, and the impact that some of his decisions had had on the firm. Finally, Paul returned to talk about his journey to becoming partner and emphasised that our careers were in our own hands – we just had to find and seize upon the opportunities that most interested us.

A conversation with a Partner

Lunch provided another opportunity for us not only to talk to people from different offices, but also to speakers from the morning sessions. Sat on a table with Paul, I was fortunate to hear more background on the history of Grant Thornton, how the UK firm fits in with the international firms, about his time working in Australia, and what it really means to become a Partner.

Back to Lovelace and a session to explain the future of the firm and particularly the shift towards a shared enterprise model.

Previously I had had some idea about what shared enterprise is, although the details of how this actually worked in practise and what it meant for me as an individual were less clear. But these insights gave me a true appreciation of our mission and showed me how each person in the room had a vital part to play in making it a success. This set us up nicely for the final session of the day, but not before tea and cake, of course.

After tea and cake…

The final session, ‘What makes you stand out?’ was designed to help each of us realise what our strengths were and the value that we could bring to a team. We worked together to think of potential future problems for GT and their solutions. We also each considered our ‘personal brand’, before proudly displaying them in brightly coloured felt-tips on badges. Having finished these, and feeling thoroughly exhausted from the day’s activities at this point, we returned to Lovelace for our final debrief…

…Which brings us back to the start of the story, with me sitting in a white room, checking out the talent. Paul is recapping on the past day and we applaud and thank everyone who has made it possible. We are given a final chance to reflect on what we have learned about the firm, and more importantly about ourselves, from the last 24 hours.

We are then left to muse the prospect that, someone sitting amongst us could be – with a lot of hard work – the future CEO. It is this final prospect that gets me thinking about all the talent in the room – there is some serious talent.

*For future reference: Australia has six states, K2 is in Pakistan and Brian O’Driscoll has scored the most 6 Nations tries.

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