How to become a Partner

Achieving the role of Partner represents a professional challenge for many accountants – but the right skillsets and a business-focus mind could just be the combination needed to reach that goal.

Whilst a previous study led by ACCA revealed that 70% of accountants see luck as a crucial factor in becoming Partner, experts claim that it takes more than a simple wheel of fortune. What, then, can make that jump become possible?

Develop a career plan

As a key measure before attaining the role of Partner, developing the right career plan is essential – meaning understanding what partnership involves and the needed skills within the sector could be vital in reaching the position.

Simon Brown, Partner at MHA Tait Walker, believes that designing your role and career according to these skills can be highly beneficial:

“Develop a career plan – the aim being that you become aware of how a Partner operates in practice and what skills are required, so that you can plan a career which takes you on a path to ensure you pick up some of these key skills along the way.”

Zena Hanks, Partner at Saffery Champness LLP, also sees planning as key in reaching that role: “Commit to your career, have a plan and build a strong personal brand and have a growth mind-set, approach difficulties with a solution mind-set and remember it’s the difficult times that helps to build your resilience.”

Accountancy is a business

As the position of Partner incorporates business strategy and client relationship, adopting a sales approach is advised.

Austin Brislen, Manager at Sellick Partnership, explains: “Directors that make Partner within a firm are much more strategic and have a good handle on the sales aspect of finance, so getting experience in ‘selling’ is essential to make the move successfully.

“The reason being that Partners generally focus much more on client development rather than directly delivering assignments. I would therefore advise candidates that aspire to become Partner to get as much exposure to sales as possible and think of ways of upskilling themselves in this area.”

Following this train of thought, Brown suggests professionals should view accountancy through a business lens, in which minds are turned from being an employee to a Partner:

“Understanding that an accountancy practice is a business – this helps to focus the mind, that the number one goal is to generate income for the partnership.”

Gain management skills

Brown also shares that developing management skills is crucial to obtain the role of Partner. Not only in terms of accounting skills, in which trust gained from Partners shows the individual’s ability to respond to issues – but also in terms of monitoring the workload:

“Prove you can deal with managing your own workload, which sometimes means saying ‘no’ to requests – but dealt with in the correct way, perhaps explaining you have other urgent commitments and offering an alternative, should give confidence that you can be relied upon.”

In other words, control over workload and business priorities reflects on great confidence and trust, showing the candidate has what it takes to become a Partner. This includes soft skills which are aimed at building and maintaining that close Partner/client relationship.

Brown continues: “Build your soft skills – moving from being technically competent to growing your soft skills, in communicating with clients and other professionals is vital. Recognising that when you talk to potential clients or intermediaries, sometimes you don’t just need to talk about your service line, but that you need to be aware of what the whole firm can offer, to solve that client’s needs is key. Remember your key role as partner is to provide clients with solutions to their needs.”

Build a profile

To reach the position of Partner, experts also claim that building a strong network can be key to a successful career path. For an accounting professional, promoting his/her profile can unlock many opportunities – meaning candidates should ensure they make their mark and show their expertise in the field.

Brislen assures: “Building a strong reputation across the sector is vital. When candidates make Partner, they do so because they have something of value, and that is usually a wealth of contacts and a broad network that the firm can tap into.

“This is something finance professionals must do throughout their career by attending sector specific evets, keeping in touch with ex-colleagues and utilising social media sites such as LinkedIn to share and discuss ideas. Partner promotions are always high profile, and it is rare you hear about someone making Partner that is unknown across the sector.”

Brown expands on this thought, advising accountants on building their own personal brand whilst exposing their core strengths:

“You want clients to know that you are becoming an expert in your field, so writing articles for publications on your area of expertise will help you build your credentials. Work out where your future work might come from.

“Become an expert – further into your career, as you become expert in a particular area, try to create a name for yourself. That way you could become indispensable to the firm. In becoming an expert try not to let it become a ‘silo practice’, where you work by yourself or in an area which has little cross-selling opportunities within the firm. The ability to cross-refer clients within the firm will undoubtedly get you further exposure to several partners.”

Success stories

Laura Hinsley, Partner Designate at Baldwins, shares how building relationships enabled her to gradually achieve the position of Partner within her current firm:

“I started my accountancy journey straight from school and went down the AAT route, studying at weekends and evenings. I then took three years out from accountancy to travel the world and I worked in the hospitality industry. This built my confidence in talking to and meeting new people, which I believe was key in my future career as an accountant. On my return I joined Grant Thornton as an associate and started my ACCA qualification. I qualified within two and half years and gained a promotion to an executive specialising in public sector assurance.

“I am very lucky and honoured to have worked with some exceptional people who have acted as mentors to me throughout my career and they always encouraged me to seek out new challenges and strive to perform the job of my those more senior to me.”

Along with this, Hinsley explains how developing soft skills through her previous professional experience also facilitated her career path – from being a Manager to later becoming Partner:

“I undertook a secondment to the national healthcare advisory team in London and at the same time was accepted onto the ACCA LOT programme. This opened a lot of doors to me and taught me soft skills that I wouldn’t have ordinarily gained in my day job. I was recognised as one of the top 35 accountants in the UK under 35 by Accountancy Age.

“I then returned into Audit and secured a job as a Manager and subsequently a Senior Manager at Grant Thornton and continued to progress my career working with some of the firm’s largest and most complex clients. In November 2019, I joined Baldwins as a Partner to head up their Midlands regional team and have recently put in my application for my RI status.”

Hanks also shows how a variety of factors, such as profile building and client relationship, has led her to become a Partner:

“I trained and gained my CTA qualification with a big 4 firm. As I work with a client base that has a private client focus, I wanted to work with a firm that provided this – so I joined Saffery Champness as a part time tax senior in 2005.

“I have worked my way up through the ranks, gaining experience as I moved forward. With that experience comes confidence to tackle difficult issues and start working on providing solutions for clients and colleagues. During the last 15 years I have also got involved in public speaking – I am the Chair of the Bristol branch of the CIoT and have worked hard to build a profile in the local market.

“I enjoy working with some great clients doing interesting things – becoming a trusted adviser is a real privilege. It’s hard work as the buck stops with you and your clients and your team will look to you for leadership and strength. As a leader you can bring a different perspective and take ownership of the way forward and I enjoy feeling empowered to effect changes and find a way forward.”

The role of Partner is changing

As technologies have continuously disrupted the profession, the new generation of Partners will experience a very different role than ones that started years ago.

Katie Singer, Partner at RBP, who comes from an accountant-family background, explains how the position of Partner has drastically evolved:

“The role of a Partner now is different in the way that we can be contacted – we all have emails, we all have mobile phones, it’s a 24 hour a day job. When you’re a partner, there is almost no normal working day. We’re always on. We’re always effectively working and 30 years ago, which is when I was born and my father was just starting out as a Partner, things were very different because there were no mobile phones and emails.”

Despite the high expectations from clients put on Partners, the role itself remains fulfilling and rewarding.

Singer concludes: “It’s more rewarding than I imagined it to be. I get great pleasure from feeling that I’ve made a difference when I speak to a client. We talk to clients daily and we’re the ones who make recommendations for things that they could potentially make savings in certain areas or increase income in others. That’s where I feel like ‘okay, so all the hard work I have put in this is what makes it worth it’.”

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