By Jacob Billings ’19, accounting and MIS

Grant Thornton LLP’s CEO Mike McGuire is looking for three things in today’s professional services leaders – curiosity, career focus, and courage.

McGuire noted the accounting industry is rapidly changing, thanks to digitization. Clients are beginning to expect substantive contributions immediately even from entry-level staff.

McGuire was invited to speak at Mays by Dean Eli Jones as part of the school’s Transformational Leader Speaker Series. He was the focus of a roundtable discussion with students that was led by Professional Program in Accounting Director Mike Shaub. He also met with key leaders at Mays.

McGuire received a bachelor’s degree in accounting and management information systems from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and is a licensed CPA in Illinois and North Carolina.

Curiosity

Throughout the session, McGuire always came back to the subject of curiosity, at one point remarking, “I grew up to be curious.” He immediately applied his perspective to his approach to clients. Early in his career, a good friend and colleague of McGuire’s was assigned to Bojangles, a young, entrepreneurial start-up that is now a well-known fast food restaurant chain. While assigned to a different client at the time, McGuire longed to work for such an innovative company where the sky was the limit.

 Career focus

Remembering this experience with Bojangles brought McGuire to his next point – that emerging professionals need to have the courage to take charge of their careers. He took charge by approaching his manager and requesting to work on the Bojangles account where the entrepreneurial spirit was so fascinating to him. “Be the captain of your career; go in and make things happen,” McGuire stressed. Relating his experience to the contemporary accounting environment, he challenged the students to embrace the opportunities that new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and blockchain are creating in the accounting profession.

Courage

Expanding on his point about the courage it takes to manage one’s career, McGuire discussed the need for courage in how we manage businesses and pursue innovation. One of his themes was how we can embrace change through diversity.

A question McGuire likes to pose to his teammates is, “How big of a team are you playing for?” His point is to underscore Grant Thornton’s overall focus on diversity in thought, background, skills and talent – to always seek out the diversity that will bring the right creativity, ideas and perspectives onto the team. He added that fearing new perspectives can inhibit opportunities to take new approaches to business problems and inhibit market disruption, emphasizing that it takes courage to be successful.