As the first woman to lead a major accounting firm, Sacha sought to transform a company and an industry that was often resistant to change. By focusing on Grant Thornton’s people and what they could offer, the culture became a more inclusive, supportive and innovative one. Incorporating lessons in leadership, change, resilience and diversity, Sacha examines what underpins an organisation, what its values are, and how understanding these elements can make it fit for the future.
Sacha Romanovitch became the first female leader of a major accounting firm when she was appointed CEO of Grant Thornton UK and a member of the global board. A radical thinker and leader, her time in charge was marked by concerted efforts to change the organisation in to a modern, progressive business typified by diversity, responsibility, personal development, openness and collaboration.
After an early entrepreneurial venture at university (where she studied chemistry), Sacha decided to learn how business works and qualified as an accountant. She joined Grant Thornton and ended up staying for over 25 years. Within a decade she became a Partner and, having been a passionate exponent of the value and importance of developing talent, became the first member of the board directly responsible for People and Culture.
As a Partner and later as CEO, Sacha sought to break down barriers in an organisation, and the wider professional services sector, that often resisted change. Key to her work was understanding the values and purpose of a business and its people, and their place in the wider context of society. By engaging with everyone and offering them the chance to develop, even those who are apparently closed to change can be persuaded.
With a focus on changing processes and systems, Sacha’s leadership saw Grant Thornton embrace a culture of shared enterprise and profit with purpose. The company reduced its focus on the academic achievements of new applicants, focusing more on what they have to offer. The policy encouraged greater diversity and helped created a more open, innovative and positive culture. In the final year of her term as CEO Sacha was ranked in the top 50 CEOs in the Glassdoor index (two places behind Apple’s Tim Cook) with a 94% employee approval rating. The company also won many awards including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise and was ranked number one on the Social Mobility Index of all businesses in the UK.
Drawing on her experience and research into people, change and leadership, as well as time with clients and policy-makers, Sacha considers how companies can be robust, sustainable and fit for the future. She looks at how they implement strategies, how they develop new leaders, and how they can make a positive contribution to the world.
Sacha now serves as co-chair of the Inclusive Economy Partnership. The Government-convened Partnership focuses on the areas of mental health, transition to work, and financial inclusion, and seeks to brings together business, society and politicians to engender change. She is also on the board of London and Partners, which works with the Mayor of London’s office to promote London internationally. She has also been a part of official reviews and reports into areas including diversity, social mobility and a range of issues affecting the auditing industry.