US Irish Business Group

Coming to America

Brian O'Sullivan
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Over the past number of months, two partners from Grant Thornton Ireland have been putting down roots in the USA, with Brian O’Sullivan heading up the East Coast operations from New York City’s Midtown, and Tony Thornbury handling the West Coast business from his office in San Francisco.

We spent some time discussing the recent move with Brian and Tony to learn more about their roles in the market and the rationale behind the decision.

Both Brian and Tony highlight the importance of the move, offering a number of reasons for the westward shift. Brian suggests that while there are some differences in the general approach to business between Ireland and the US, there is a high degree of cultural alignment between the two geographies, not just in terms of shared values and norms but also in the rather direct communication styles and in the importance of a personal touch in doing business. He states, “In many ways, the pandemic has normalised interacting across time zones from anywhere in the world and has given opportunities for staff to work day-to-day on global clients but there will always be a need for face-to-face meetings. This is particularly true early on in a project when building trust and rapport is critical, but it is also key in the final stages where a high-touch approach enables faster reaction times, quicker decision making and helps mitigate any time lags that can occur.”

Tony supports this view and adds, “another key benefit accruing to having a physical presence here is the consistency of service delivered to the client from a single point of entry; a conduit for the client who has access to both the geographical and sectoral expertise required to deliver quality effectively both at home and abroad. That is to a large extent the benefit of our roles over here".

Both Brian and Tony had been working in the US frequently prior to the permanent move, so the move really came about as a necessity, further cementing the already strong relationship with Grant Thornton’s US firm.  Tony explains, “the combination of our international expertise and the GTUS specialist teams allows us to provide a really compelling global service to US entities with operations in multiple jurisdictions – the inherent deep expertise in tax and accounting in the US team is supplemented by our knowledge and experience in managing all the really complex compliance requirements for the multinational entities.”

Brian suggests that another element driving the move reflects some of the broader industry trends in recent years but particularly arising from outsourcing of professional services stating, “whether it is from an accounting or financial reporting perspective, tax or from a global compliance or regulatory reporting point of view, if you are outsourcing these activities your service provider must be able to provide a consistent quality of global service whilst bringing the right local knowledge for each of the geographies you are operating in”.

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Tony adds, “Given Ireland’s long history of inward FDI and the country’s excellent reputation as a gateway into Europe - particularly for American clients - there is a strength and depth of industry experience there that can be leveraged to our strategic advantage. Coupling this with Ireland’s geographic and cultural advantages, this is a real value-add for US-based clients regardless of whether they are established Multi Nationals, or indeed one of the younger, more innovative tech players that are keen to expand their global footprint.”

Ireland’s strengths in innovation and technology are reflected particularly in the strong growth of the Fintech sector, a sector which Brian suggests has benefitted strongly from a robust domestic support network, but in other sectors too such as the fund administration industry where M&A activity requires co-ordination and specialist knowledge, something which Grant Thornton specialises in offering to its clients.

Developments in the IT landscape are also driving new trends, whether this is manifested in GDPR requirements for companies operating in the EU, or indeed for compliance or corporate governance issues, it is critical to match the right partners with the client’s needs. Both Brian and Tony reinforce this point highlighting that their own day-to-day roles have shifted away from direct service delivery in their own specialties to ones of facilitation where clients get the value add they need tailored to their specific requirements.

Looking out onto a famously foggy San Francisco panorama from his window, Tony concludes that in spite of global challenges over the past two years, particularly with respect to resources, the upside accruing from a physical presence in the US market is very positive.

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