A life-long accountant, Bob Taylor is a numbers guy but his business starts and ends with people.

"In our business, especially the size clients we serve, they know us individually," says the managing partner of Grant Thornton's Cincinnati office. "The value we bring is based on what the individual brings utilizing the firm's resources and knowledge base."

Building a strong team that delivers for clients is vital, he says.

Grant Thornton isn't as large as accounting's Big Four "” Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers "” but it sees plenty of opportunity by focusing not on the top tier corporations but on growing small-to-mid-sized companies.

"While the Big 4 focus on the Fortune 500, our focus is more on the Russell 2000 index (companies).  We serve that market very well," says Taylor, who joined Grant Thornton as audit practice leader 10 years ago.

 Grant Thornton LLP is clearly doing something right.

Fifth Largest Firm

The nation's fifth largest accounting firm, based in Chicago, recently announced record revenue of $1.2 billion, up 9 percent, in the latest fiscal year. The Cincinnati office doesn't disclose results, but Taylor says they mirror what is happening nationally.

With 100 employees and six partners, Grant Thornton's Cincinnati office is one of 56 regional offices of the firm. Manufacturing, consumer and business services, health care, the hospitality industry, not-for-profits and technology companies dominate the Cincinnati client list.

Among the Cincinnati office's public company clients are Walnut Hills-based Frisch's Restaurants Inc. and Meridian Bioscience Inc. in Newtown. But at least 60 percent of the Cincinnati office's clients are privately held businesses.

In that respect, Grant Thornton's Cincinnati client base looks a lot like the Cincinnati economy overall.

 "Cincinnati sometimes gets a bad rap, but people want to own companies that operate here. They're predictable," says Taylor.  "They have stable cash flow. Equity firms like the culture here and they like the people."

Shaking Off Recession

The Cincinnati office works with a number of the more than two dozen private equity firms that own businesses in the region.  Over the last 18 months, Grant Thornton's area clients have begun shaking off the effects of the recession.

"We're optimistic that upward trend will continue," says Taylor.

An early indicator is that merger and acquisition activity is on the upswing.

"In our office right now we have three acquisitions in process.  That might not sound like a lot but if you asked me the same question three years ago, it would probably have been between zero and one."

 It's a sign businesses are planning ahead.

"People are buying cash flows. They're all looking to the future. Acquisitions absolutely reflect optimism."

 Taylor is just as optimistic about Grant Thornton's growth prospects here.

"We believe now we're going to grow as an office, something closer to double digit rates," he says.

Service Quality Counts  

Taylor points with pride at service quality rankings scored by the firm's clients.

On a scale of 1-10, the Cincinnati office scored a 9.1 for its audit work and 9.3 for its tax work last year, according to a survey of clients.

"Those are incredible numbers," he says.

Auditing now represents half the business with tax work another 30 percent and business consulting the remaining 20 percent.

Taylor says the firm wants to increase its percentage of tax work, a likely prospect with expected tax law changes coming out of Washington after the presidential election.

And with the economy improving, the firm is seeing more consulting opportunities with non-tax or audit clients. Some of that consulting work comes from units of Fortune 500 companies such as GE Aviation in Evendale and some Procter & Gamble Co. businesses.

"There are niche opportunities for us with bigger companies," he says.

 With growth on the horizon, finding and nurturing the right people is at the top of Grant Thornton's agenda.

"It's critical for us that our hiring be very, very accurate," he says during a daylong visit recently by about 20 graduating accounting students from the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Miami University and the University of Dayton, where the office primarily recruits.

Investing in Community

Grant Thornton's support of area not-for-profits ranges from Accounting for Kids to the Zoological Society of Cincinnati.

"I believe as a business leader in the community, you have to support the community," he says. "You have to do that with more than your words, you need to do it with financial support, technical support and people support." 

Taylor instills that idea with the firm's college interns from their first day on the job. Each new intern spends his or her first week with the firm working with a local non-profit.

"I have a passion about this," he says. "I believe we have to develop our people on how to be good professionals. I can't do that lecturing to them.

"But if I expose them to the community and get them in the habit of serving the community, 10 years from now they won't think twice about it."

To build communication and rapport, Taylor is always ready to sponsor kickball, basketball and soccer teams involving his staff.

"It brings our people together and builds trust and camaraderie. It's one more opportunity to get our people working together.

"They tend to be across service lines, so I've got my tax people playing basketball with their audit counterparts," he says.

"Plus, I like to win."