Five things you should know about Stephen Chipman
Stephen M. Chipman, 55, worked at accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP for 34 years, serving as its chief executive, first in China and then in the United States while living in Chicago. He retired from the firm in October 2015 after reaching the company’s term limit for chief executives. In June, he became chief executive of Boston-based Radius, which helps businesses manage and expand their international operations. He spoke about his career and life.
1. Most people who know Chipman don’t realize he never went to college. He earned his accounting qualifications through an apprenticeship program while working at a chartered accounting firm in the United Kingdom, where he was born. The company was the equivalent of a certified public accounting firm in the United States.
“You work full time, study nights and weekends, and take the same exams as college graduates. It’s doing it the hard way. I don’t know if I’d do it that way again if I had the choice, but at 18 you think you know more than you really know, right? I was fascinated by business and was tired of being in the classroom. I frustrated all my teachers and family, and they said, well, if you want to learn about business, accounting is the best place to go learn about [it].”
2. At Grant Thornton, Chipman spent much of his time helping clients navigate the complicated logistics of running and expanding businesses internationally. His accomplishments included launching the company’s China, India, and Japan operations, which serve US companies investing in China and India, and Japanese companies investing in the United States. He says his 34 years at the helm went by surprisingly quickly. After he stepped down, Chipman wasn’t nearly ready to go the traditional retirement route.
“One of the advantages of starting work when you’re 18 is you get to do things when you’re very young. One of the disadvantages is, at the age of 54, I found myself done. I had done the CEO role, and I termed out. I started to look around and explore what other opportunities might be out there for me. The opportunity came along to talk to Radius, and I couldn’t believe my luck.”
3. Chipman says Radius is focused on taking the pain out of the process of expanding a business internationally. After all his years at Grant Thornton, the work comes naturally to him.
“For someone who has [throughout] their entire career been so interested and motivated by being involved in the world of international business, to wake up every morning and be part of an organization where international is in the blood, it’s in the people, it’s in the clients, it’s in the DNA of the business — it’s the perfect place for me.”
4. When Chipman is not working, he likes to spend time with his family in Chicago — where his two adopted daughters from China attend high school — so there’s a lot of commuting involved. Lately, his weekends have been increasingly devoted to his daughters’ fencing tournaments and choir commitments. Chipman also serves as a board member for One Sky, a Berkeley, Calif.-based nonprofit focused on changing the lives of orphans in China.
“What started out as literally one person is now a charitable foundation that has a formal partnership with the Chinese government in Beijing. We are helping families of migrant children who have been left behind in rural China when their parents have gone to work in coastal cities. I would put that in the broader context of, hopefully, stepping back and saying, in my own small way, I was able to make a difference.”
5. If he has any free hours in the day after all that, Chipman can be found playing or watching sports. He’s participated in and watched sports all over the world. As for his favorite American professional football team . . .
“You’re going to get me in big trouble with your readers. Let me start by saying I have huge respect for the accomplishments of the Patriots, and I’m amazed at what they’ve been able to do year in and year out. But having said that, I’m a massive Dallas Cowboys fan.”