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In perspective: William Welch Deloitte

William Welch Deloitte

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As one of the key pioneers of the accounting profession, William Welch Deloitte made a huge impact. At the age of 25, he proved to be an innovator when he founded Deloitte, the first of the Big Four accountancy firms in 1845. The company is now a multinational organisation, providing consulting, tax and audit services, with a network of over 200,000 professionals. Deloitte has made a significant contribution to accounting, helping to shape the finance world as we know it today.

Born in 1818 in London, Deloitte started his accountancy career early. He became an assistant to the official assignee at the Bankruptcy Court in the City of London, at the tender age of 15. There he learned the business and ten years later, Deloitte opened his own office opposite the Bankruptcy Court. The history of accounting can be traced back thousands of years to early civilisation and Italian Luca Pacioli is widely considered as the father of accounting. However, Deloitte really defined the industry of accountancy we recognise, particularly in 1849 at the Great Western Railway when he became the first independent auditor ever appointed.

Deloitte office

Deloitte became known for his audits of railroad companies and he uncovered fraud after auditing the Great Western Railway for shareholders. Four directors were forced to resign after he filed his report. Deloitte discovered Leopold Redpath perpetrated the fraud against his own employers. Redpath was one of the most notorious fraudsters of 19th century England. Over an 8-year period, he used his position as shares holder to raise a staggering £250,000 (which amounts to around £20 million today). William Welch Deloitte’s auditing rang the alarm bells and the Great Northern Western Railway became aware of Redpaths’ scams. Redpath was eventually arrested and found guilty of fraud in his 1857 trial, and after being convicted he was transported to Australia.

William Welch Deloitte became president of the newly created Institute of Chartered Accountants and found a site for the firm’s headquarters in 1888. Deloitte branched into America in 1893, five years before his death. While in the US, he started auditing Procter & Gamble, an up and coming soap and candle business. Over a century later and P&G is still a client. The length of time Deloitte has been a P&G auditor is 128 years as of 2018. Speaking of the longevity, Valarie Sheppard, controller of P&G has said, “We feel mandatory rotation would not result in an improvement of auditor independence.”

Fast-forward to the 1950s and Deloitte began to expand significantly. W. W. Deloitte may have long passed, but his company continued to thrive. Deloitte’s firm soon became known as Deloitte, Haskins & Sells. In 1969, the company adopted Touche Ross & Co, concluding a decade of mergers with more than 50 other firms in the US.

Today, Deloitte has a global network of subsidiaries, which provide different client services. The firms continue to move forward and establish themselves as leading companies in accounting. William Welch Deloitte created what is now considered one of the best places to work. Deloitte’s lasting legacy is his business, which overall goals and commitments have largely remained the same in the past 100 years. The company owes its existence to W. W. Deloitte, a professional who recognised the importance of worldwide accounting.

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