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Have you got what it takes to become a partner?

Author: Peter Taylor-Whiffen

Published: 15 Jan 2020

It’s often the career goal of young accountants, but becoming a partner isn’t for everyone. Do you think you’d make the cut? And do you really want the job anyway? We talk to the accountants who’ve been through it to find out.

Partnership is often seen as the pinnacle of a practice-based career – but with a great title comes great responsibility, and not everyone is cut out for it. “It takes a certain skill set and desire,” says Anna Draper. “It’s challenging to juggle that responsibility with your personal life.” Draper should know – she became senior audit partner at BDO on the first day of her maternity leave. It wasn’t what she’d planned: “I just wanted to be the best I could be. I’d always aspired to leadership; I captained sports teams at school. But I never thought about being partner until I moved to BDO.”

Daren Moore, former equity partner at Baker Tilly and Price Bailey, and now group commercial director for TaxAssist Accountants, had the opposite thought-process: “I was determined to make partner as quickly as possible – but as I got closer, I started wondering about whether I’d actually enjoy it.”

Do the pros make the cons worth it?

“I’ve worked with great firms,” says Moore. “But you need to consider fors and againsts.” 

Draper’s thoughts are similar to Moore’s. She says: “It’s good to be part of the major decision-making. But it’s hard work, long hours, responsibility – and however much I plan around auditing or child pick-up, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.”

The prospect of higher earnings is attractive – but the reality can be different, says Moore. “You may be offered future equity, but can you afford it? And don’t forget, irrespective of earnings, partners’ risk is generally shared equally. Many young accountants equate partnership with ownership, but are you expected to just steward the business for the next generation and never realise the value? And does the firm’s overall direction of travel make it a company you want to be part of?”

What makes a good partner?

“Strong accountancy and leadership skills,” says Draper, who was this summer promoted to BDO’s South East lead partner. “You must be robust, good with people. But these skillsets you learn. No single personality type or life circumstance makes a good partner. Partners can and should be all personalities, from all backgrounds – a diverse partnership represents your firm’s clients better and inspires more of your staff to think, ‘I could do that’.”

But what if it’s not for you?

“There are different examples of what success looks like,” adds Draper. “Partnership is only one. Thousands of hugely successful accountants never became practice partners because it didn’t suit them.”

And if you can’t decide...

“For many accountants, partnership is a dream position,” says Moore. “But make sure it will give you the role, rewards and opportunities you’re looking for.”

Draper advises taking your career as it comes: “Don’t worry about the endgame. Focus on the here and now and different opportunities will present themselves. When they do, think about what matters to you personally and don’t be pressured. Be true to yourself.”