Is it possible to nurture entrepreneurial skills within a large accountancy firm?

Michel Driessen, operational transactions services leader at EY, looks at how staff can be encouraged to be entrepreneurial at a large professional services business.

If professional candidates have a flair for being entrepreneurial, whether it be natural or nurtured, is there a place for them to thrive in a large corporation, or is the only route to professional fulfilment through ‘going it alone’? Are the highly creative and entrepreneurial cultures that we hear about from the likes of Facebook, Google and Innocent Smoothies exclusive to fast growth, innovative, start-up businesses?

A significant part of how an organisation is perceived and how it operates is through its culture. The culture within an organisation is sometimes very hard to define. It is clearly intangible but equally is vitally important to an organisation’s success in terms of business performance and attracting the right talent.

Some businesses are defined by having an entrepreneurial culture, typically derived from the entrepreneur who set up the business in the first place where his or her flair, creativity and talent for spotting a market need transcends the whole organisation.

But it is my view that businesses that bare the attributes of an entrepreneurial culture are not exclusive to those high profile, fast growth, start-up businesses and can absolutely exist in a large, well-established organisation. 

Take EY for example and specifically the team I lead, operational transaction services. The team has grown from 20 people with one partner seven years ago to 130 people with six partners today with revenue compounded annual growth rate growth in excess of 25 per cent. We are part of a much larger transactions advisory services team. Critical to our success has been the strong entrepreneurial culture embedded within.

My team is, in part, defined by its diverse professional cultural background and experience. No two people have the same experience or offer the same insights. We recruit from a wide pool of talent across the globe, including: graduates direct from university, engineers, accountants, MBAs, consultants, professional services advisors, M&A practitioners and experienced hires with deep industry insight.

Core to our way of working is encouraging those across the team, at whatever level, to challenge the norm and each other when developing solutions and services for our clients. But as well as delivering on client projects and responding to client needs, we actively drive a culture where we encourage the team to anticipate our client’s issues and identify value creation opportunities as opposed to purely reacting. This enables us to deliver services that are very specific and targeted.   

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We nurture that level of flexibility and creativity and our people are measured on this, making it an integral and significant part of what we do. Like any entrepreneurial business, we are driven by growth, and if an individual has a concept, solution or has spotted a market trend we actively support them to develop and run this.

Regardless of whether this is a service offering we have provided before in a specific sector, we recognise that future growth won’t come from following a well-trodden path in a transactions business, but proactively identifying market needs and wants, and fulfilling that need for the benefit of the client. And it doesn’t have to have a shelf life of 20 years – our view is to develop and deploy it for as long as it is relevant to the market.

The recognition that services must continually develop as the market develops, ensures our approach and advice is fresh, dynamic and exciting – we are always looking for that next opportunity to develop something the market has not seen before. 

But this doesn’t happen by chance. It is instilling this confidence to develop the business, using their own skill set and experience, that empowers our people and this ultimately makes the team more effective. And because of the diverse skills and experience of our people, from across sectors and services, they each learn from each other adding to the team’s overall success.

We see our entrepreneurial culture as self-fulfilling – my team is fed by its ambition to grow, our growth provides our people space and opportunity to develop and enhance their careers and this in turn nurtures their entrepreneurial spirit. If you have the talent, flair and application and the organisation encourages it, then working in an entrepreneurial culture and environment that grows both the bottom line and develops the individual, can be done from within.

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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