David Dunckley emerges as next in line for Grant Thornton UK top job

21 November 2018 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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Following the Partner rebellion which is thought to have forced Sacha Romanovitch to vacate her position as the only female CEO of a leading British professional services firm, Grant Thornton has lined up a likely successor. David Dunckley, a 20-year employee of the firm, is understood to be in line for the role, having been backed by Chairman of the Board Ed Warner.

Appointed in mid-2015, Sacha Romanovitch became the first UK female CEO of a major UK professional services firm when she took the top job at Grant Thornton. However, just three years later, she was forced to announce she would be standing aside from the role, as soon as a successor was identified. The news came after a now infamous note was leaked to the UK press by a number of Partners and Directors at Grant Thornton, accusing Romanovitch somewhat hyperbolically of imposing a “socialist agenda”, but chiefly voicing disgruntlement of mixed fortunes in terms of the firm’s profitability over her tenure.

Now, the firm has announced that it intends for David Dunckley to become its new Chief Executive, pending regulatory approval. Dunckley also needs the backing from 75% of Grant Thornton’s 200 UK Partners; however with the only other candidate, Head of Operations Robert Hannah, having ruled himself out of contention, the ballot is now seen as a formality.

David Dunckley emerges as next in line for Grant Thornton UK top job

Dunckley was described by The Times as a “20-year industry veteran”, having joined Grant Thornton in 1998, though it is worth noting that this would still make him the junior of Romanovitch by eight years at the firm. Much reporting surrounding the move has highlighted length of tenure at the firm as a key aspect similarly suggesting an experienced hand may be being brought in to steady a ship following the an idealistic yet inexperienced predecessor. Critics have suggested this could feed into a broader theme of "old guard" sexism, allegedly initiated by long-time Partners who dislike the change to the order of things at the firm, and were hoping to push the CEO out.

While the debate regarding this will likely trundle on in the press, however, Grant Thornton will be keen for its new leader to draw a line under a troubled last few months, and help move the company forward. To that end, when his impending appointment was announced, Dunckley himself made a statement that he would “drive our firm forward” and felt “passionately about the big opportunity we have to accelerate our growth”.

Dunckley became a Partner at the firm in 2006, having first joined Grant Thornton in 1998. As a current member of Grant Thornton’s Strategic Leadership Team, he has responsibility for leading the mid-market teams in London, while also fulfilling the role of Global Head of Recovery & Reorganisation for Grant Thornton’s international network. Prior to his extensive spell with Grant Thornton, Dunckley trained as a Chartered Accountant, working in the audit practice of a private client firm with Rawlinson & Hunter, which he joined fresh from graduating from Loughborough University of Technology in 1994. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, Sports Science and Mathematics.

Commenting on Dunckley’s ascension, Ed Warner, Chairman of the Board of Grant Thornton UK, said that he was the right person to “map out the next phase of our future.”

With the Big Four facing a competition probe for their dominance in the UK audit market, Grant Thornton will be eager to forge ahead as the quartet’s largest national competitor. The firm has already argued the case for an independent public body to appoint auditors, something it believes will boost competition for FTSE 350 accounting contracts, and once the firm has put the uncertainty of its future leadership to rest, it will expect to be in an influential position to push for such a landmark policy change.