One of the Associate Directors within the Tax team in Birmingham, shares their thoughts on the Grant Thornton or Big 4 dilemma…
Hi, my name’s Astrid and I’ve been working in the Cambridge office’s audit team for just over three years.
The Cambridge office is located on the science park at the edge of the city. We actually moved here (from the business park over the road!) last year so the office still has a brand new feel with shiny kitchen trinkets and also a pool table and television to entertain us at lunch. It’s a large three-storey building, and we occupy one side of the ground floor. The office is completely open plan which gives it a very friendly atmosphere (eg the audit partners actually sit about five steps from the audit hot-desks) and everyone is approachable.
We have quite a range of departments with around 80 employees across all of them. There is the expected audit & tax departments but then also recovery & reorganisation, corporate finance, transaction advisory services and financial planning. Again, due to the open plan nature of the office its very easy to speak to people from other departments and to gain an understanding of what everybody does. In the past we were part of the East Anglia region, so worked closely with Norwich and Ipswich. More recently though East Anglia have joined forces with the Central region, which will see us strengthen ties with Milton Keynes, Kettering & Leicester.
In terms of clients, being based in a hub such as Cambridge, we do have quite a number of research & development and technology clients. These can vary from small start-ups to AIM listed companies and the work they do is quite often mind-boggling. We do still have a range of clients in other sectors though such as housing associations, manufacturing & engineering, publishing and retail.
Being a relatively small place you do tend to get to know your peers at other firms relatively well. Trainees attend college with people from other Cambridge firms (all of the Big 4 have offices here and there are a number of much smaller firms too) and there is also a Cambridge Young Professionals Group which puts on events each month. The office is a social place and we’re actually gearing up for our summer boat party as I write.
I should say that I found myself in the Cambridge office due to other offices filling up during the application process. I had never been here before I came for my interview (contrary to popular belief, not all of the Cambridge staff went to Cambridge university), but, for lack of a better cliche, I haven’t looked back. As everyone knows, Cambridge is a historic university town and the city centre is awash from impressive university buildings and picturesque views, such as the famous view of Kings College from The Backs. Before moving, I had no idea what a ‘punt’ was, aside from perhaps placing a cheeky bet on the football, but it is also the name for a bizarre gondola-type-boat that someone stands on the back of whilst using a pole to power and steer it. Punting is a great way of seeing some of Cambridge’s hidden treasures and it never fails to amuse as punters invariably wobble whilst trying to steer, get their poles stuck in the river bed or under a bridge and, at the end it all, perhaps fall in. There are also museums, galleries, nice places to eat and the shopping isn’t half bad. Moreover, London is only a 50 minute train journey away, with at least four trains going every hour.
All in all, Cambridge is a fun place to be and the work is varied and interesting. Should you have any questions about working here, or at Grant Thornton in general, then please do follow-me on Twitter, GT_Astrid and ask away.
I left my compliance role at Grant Thornton several years ago, following the closure and relocation of the Poole Office. Keen to apply my scientific research expertise, I accepted a specialist post with a larger firm, advising large corporates on Research and Development (R&D) expenditure tax relief. Within six months, I was back.
I like getting involved in everything. By moving to a larger firm, I felt I could apply my rounded experience gained at Grant Thornton, combining this with my scientific expertise in R&D. What became really apparent was how much the competition really values the breadth of experience that Grant Thornton employees have.
One new challenge I had in my new role was hotdesking. However, I often found myself adjacent to people in completely different teams. Conversations were interesting but I felt increasingly frustrated at the lack of opportunity to get involved in work outside my specialist team. Although I had gained some valuable experience with the firm, I decided that I would prefer to work in a firm offering a greater variety of work and client type. I looked around and quickly found another job, approaching Grant Thornton for a reference.
Having left on good terms, Grant Thornton invited me back. Since returning the firm has grown and increased its market profile considerably, winning higher-profile clients.
Now as a manager, I get the opportunity to advise businesses of all shapes and sizes. By seeking out the opportunities available at Grant Thornton, I have been able to apply all the positive experiences gained during my six months away, as a member of Oxfords R&D team. Since joining, this team has grown significantly, seizing a larger slice of market share, and we were recently shortlisted for the “Best Tax Team in a Large Firm” at the esteemed Lexis Nexis Taxation Awards.
From my experience, I would recommend that people think carefully about the variety of work they would be doing in their desired role when applying. I believe working for the larger firm in London was a great experience and I feel it is important to take yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things as a way to develop. I have learnt it is important to always stay on good terms and maintain contact with those who have supported your early career.