Inside the Top Five: No. 5: Grant Thornton LLP

For IT staffers at this accounting firm, developing their business skills and keeping systems humming are all in a day's work. By Eugene A. Demaitre

At Grant Thornton LLP, the "Grant Thornton experience," as employees call it, is how the Chicago-based accounting firm is providing career development for its staff and maintaining its integrity and technology during a period of rapid expansion.

David Holyoak, partner and CIO, started out as a CPA more than 20 years ago on the business side of the firm. He notes that "over the past five years, we've grown significantly, from 2,700 to more than 5,000 people total. With growth comes complexity and change. How do we keep pace [with] or, better put, stay ahead of that growth from a million-dollar to a billion-dollar organization? We intend to support our internal customers with the best technology available." A snapshot of a typical day at Grant Thornton shows how that's done.

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6 a.m. to 8 a.m.: Network engineer Craig Cohen is on call three days a week. "I'm going through the transition from being a remote-access engineer to learning the essentials of a network engineer," he says. "After my manager feels that I have the appropriate training, I'll be on call all the time."

8:30 a.m.: Melissa Hunt, regional technology manager at Grant Thornton's Dallas office, logs into instant messaging and e-mail. She has already checked them from home with her BlackBerry. "I'm responsible for relationships with regional managing partners, the office managing partners and the IT support staff in the field in my region," she says. "I'm also involved with the national work/life balance task force. I get to be involved in the business side as well, to learn about the business and take that back to IT."

9 a.m.: "Typically, I have a couple of hot issues," says Cohen. "Packing up a router or shipping it out or making a change to an interface. I may have to call people back or respond to e-mail -- dealing with 'little fires.'"

Stephani Osborne, manager of IT communications and training, meets with the strategic learning group regarding plans for a formal 360-degree review program. After that, she meets with one of Grant Thornton's relationship managers. "Their role is to be the liaison with internal customers, to listen to what customers need and help the back-office staff understand what those needs are," Osborne says.

WHY THEY'RE TOPS
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Ranked No. 9 for retention
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Spends $2,318 per year per IT worker on training
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43% of its IT managers are women
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29% of its IT staffers are women
10:30 a.m.: Aenoi Narisak, a Web programmer in Grant Thornton's application development and programming unit, attends a two-hour class in Finance 101. "It's very helpful to someone like myself, who's oriented toward IT," he says. "Such classes count toward our goal of 40 hours of training per year."

10:45 a.m.: The IT infrastructure support staff installs Visio on Osborne's computer. "The staff is fabulous," she says. A few years ago, Grant Thornton had a program designed to recognize and reward employees for outstanding customer service, "but it became an ineffective measurement because people were doing so well," she says.

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