New client leads, brand exposure and unique marketing opportunities are just some of the mutual benefits organizations can expect when they engage in corporate partnerships. But, what Grant Thornton didn’t anticipate when it launched its partnership with Volta back in 2018, is the impact it has had on the accounting and advisory firm’s younger employees.
“When we were originally introduced to Volta, one of the things we really liked about it was that it aligned with what our purpose is – to help our clients, colleagues and community thrive,” Wade Taylor, managing partner at Grant Thornton, said. ”We see that the largest growth opportunity for Nova Scotia is going to be with emerging companies – it creates a level of excitement within our team to support that growth.”
Eager to serve as a resource for startups, Grant Thornton opened a permanent office on the lobby level of Volta in September 2018, providing accounting advice and guidance to members who need it through office hours, events, networking opportunities, and more. They have about 30 employees involved with their Science and Technology Business Advisory Group, and they each take turns holding down the fort in their Volta office three days a week.
“For any great community initiatives we have, to give us an opportunity to give back and be a part of that growth is quite important and ties into our purpose. But really, the most significant benefit has been in our colleague piece,” Taylor said. “It has afforded us the opportunity to give our younger colleagues direct experience early on with startup companies. It’s a personal growth opportunity. They’re able to see businesses in a different light and share their expertise.”
One of those younger employees is Alex Martin, a Senior Accountant who works in Assurance Services at Grant Thornton. He is part of the Science and Technology Support Group, and said the days he spends working at Volta are noticeably different than ones at his cubicle in the Grafton Street head office.
“One of the common things that I think everybody who has worked with clients at Volta have noticed is the energy that they come with. It is – bar none – different than any energy you see from any other clients; they are fully engaged in the business at all times, always looking for something more,” Martin said, adding, “the growth that they are going through and the constant demand of their time is crazy. It’s a fun environment to be in, so it’s nice to be in with that electricity.”
Martin added that, where many of the founders are not accountants by trade, it’s rewarding to come in and help their teams set up systems and processes that, with all of the other stresses they are facing, they may not have the time or experience to do it themselves.
“It’s awesome to be able to go in there and instantly be an expert,” Martin said, adding that when he attends Volta events, he is often approached directly by founders to help with accounting tasks, but if he were at the Grafton Street office, that may not be the case.
“Being able to be with a brand and company that is known for its expertise and known for being that person that is sought out, is not always going to happen with a more formalized entity,” Martin said. “But with the startups, people are like, ‘OK, this guy is a similar age to me.’ It’s easy to make a nice connection, build a little bit of trust and a relationship from ground zero, instead of coming in and adopting a relationship that has been here with Grant Thornton for quite some time.”
Where that’s typically been the case, Taylor added that it’s a great learning opportunity and confidence-builder for younger employees to initiate relationships with new clients.
“This is wonderful because the way our business has been traditionally structured, is that Alex would be referred to as part of the team that services; he would not be referred to as the lead,” Taylor said. “Our business is constantly changing, and it’s going to be changing significantly over the next five to 10 years. Having our people have direct access to business owners, and being that lead person is what’s going to allow us to be successful.”
Taylor added that those unexpected lessons are shaping the growth and agility within the organization.
Morgan MacKinnon, Marketing Co-ordinator at the firm, said the presence at Volta has also pushed the team outside of their comfort zone; it helps shake up the day-to-day routine, and has inspired a change in office culture and the type of events they host.
“Generally our days at Volta aren’t spent entirely working on projects for Volta technology companies. We hope that comes up one day, but generally we are working on other things and you just get to be part of that hub, and you get to be part of that community,” MacKinnon said. “You hear there’s a ping pong tournament, or you see yoga happening at lunch time, or people are talking by the coffee shop – those are opportunities for us, that we don’t necessarily have here.
“So you’re kind of giving a new office environment to people who sit in cubicles. We get to go down, take advantage of all the resources Volta has and so it keeps things interesting,” she said.
MacKinnon added that it’s helped the team form new habits and has encouraged continuous learning among staff.
“What we’ve found, and the feedback we’ve received from the companies that are at Volta – from the Volta team and from our people that have been at Volta – it has dictated programming here at Grant Thornton,” she said. “We’ve done additional training in certain areas. We’ve done deep dives we call our Tech Crunch and Learn series, where we invite experts in to educate our team. Some of those experts have been identified through Volta.”
They also, for the first time ever, held a reverse pitch competition, that put their people in the shoes of the startups and, according to MacKinnon, it forced everyone “out of their element” in a great way.
Just a few weeks ago, Grant Thornton and Volta renewed its partnership – something Taylor was thrilled about, as these unexpected benefits continue to reveal themselves.
“The biggest thing – I think – is that we wanted an opportunity for our colleagues and our younger professionals; what I think we underestimated was what the true value for them,” Taylor said. “But seeing them blossom and be in that group – and for us to see through their commitment to something is wonderful.”
He added that the team has just gone through their busy season, and despite the long hours and increased workload, they didn’t miss any time at Volta.
“Our only scheduling issue is how can we manage the number of requests for people to go, because they are seeing what our Science and Technology team members are getting to do, and everybody wants to be part of the story,” Taylor said.
“So for us, what we didn’t expect was the true benefit that we’re seeing today.”
To learn more about Grant Thornton, visit their website.