6 important lessons learnt by a big 4 partner who made it to partner at the second time of asking

A few years back I had the pleasure of speaking to Matt Miades, a former PwC partner from the US. In our enjoyable conversation, Matt shared with me some of the lessons he learnt after trying to make partner at PwC and being knocked back for partner at the first time of asking.

1. Cut out any political mistakes

After two years as a senior manager, Matt went for partnership at PwC. (He was  ‘man and boy’ PwC) After making senior manager, Matt’s thoughts turned to taking the next step to partnership. When Matt talked to the two partners he worked for, they were pretty positive about him going for it. In fact they told him, ‘you can do this’.

Probably Matt’s downfall when he went for partnership first time around was making some crucial mistakes in a meeting with a client. It was one of those difficult conversations. You know, the ones that come along every so often. Unfortunately this conversation came along when there were two partners in the meeting as well. With the benefit of hindsight Matt knows he should have handled this meeting better – both in terms of the client, but also the partners at the meeting. His mistake with the client cost him partnership at the first time of asking.

2. Patience is a necessity and stop watching the clock

Part of the feedback Matt got from failing at his first attempt was ‘the cake needed to bake a little longer’. After all this was a young ambitious professional who was only nine years out of school. Matt took the time to really dig down into what this comment actually meant and how he could change his behaviours. He took onboard the feedback he was given by partners and as a result stopped watching the clock for a few years. He learnt that becoming patient and going for partner when you are really truly ready is a good thing. As a result of this gap, Matt used his time wisely to build his political base within the partnership.

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How to make partner and still have a life
How to make partner and still have a life

3. The strength of your fan base in the partnership is vital

When the partners are voting on whether to accept a new partner into the partnership, regardless of whether or not you are in the US, UK, PwC, KPMG or any other practice, they are essentially thinking about three areas:

  • Does this person operate at the partner level some of the time, all of the time, or I’ve not seen them operate at this level?
  • Can I trust this person NOT to put the partnership at risk?
  • Will this person bring into more to the partnership pot than they take out?

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the more partners in your partnership who know you, like you and rate you, the easier it is to get voted into the partnership. Matt worked in the IT consulting part of PwC. As a result of being knocked back at the first time of asking, he spent a large amount of effort building up his power base in the rest of PwC, ready for that all important critical vote.

Matt has seen people make partner in eight years – this is almost unheard of now. However this person was in the right place at the right time. He’d done a great job of networking into the culture and being seen as a member of the club. Therefore, if you want to make partner don’t neglect your internal network as this will make or break your shot at partnership.

4. Take the time to routinely manage the partner’s expectations

Matt realised that his political mistake in that fateful meeting came down to not managing the partners’ expectations. You can’t manage  someone’s expectations unless you know what they are. Do lock people into their expectations, then they can only measure you against this. In other words, you have a level playing field!

5. Becoming partner helps you get your life back

Matt, like many other partners before him, found that he got his life back as a partner. With partner on your business card you do get more flexibility to live your life as you wish. Remember you need to take that choice to get your life back if you want it back! As Matt said to me, getting to partnership in the US within the Big 4 is much harder now than when he was first put up for partner in 1999. Good people are often spending much longer at the senior manager level, upwards of six years or more. Basically if you want to make partner now you really do need to prove you can win work otherwise you will not make it past senior manager.

6. Be careful for what you wish for

Many professionals spend years focused on getting to partner. However, as Matt found, you need to be careful for what you wish for. In PwC, candidates who had spent time outside of their home office, were favoured. He saw the person who made partner before him get sent to Basel for a 3 year tour, complete with family. This left Matt to run a practice of 30-40 people on his own!

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About Matt Miades

Matt was a Philadelphia-based Partner in the Risk Assurance (RA) practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP (PwC), and during his 21 years at PwC his work crossed into many industry sectors, including Financial Services, Technology, Consumer and Industrial Products, Utilities, Higher Education, Insurance and Retail.  His primary areas of technical focus included Internal Controls, Risk Management, Project Assurance, SSAE 16 audits and Attestations.  His other significant partner responsibilities were in the areas of talent acquisition and development, business development, quality control and operational leadership of a $25 million RA practice comprised of over 100 individuals.  Matt’s consistently increasing passion for developing and mentoring young professionals in recent years resulted in his retirement from PwC and founding The Edge.  

The Edge is a professional development company in the Philadelphia area delivering executive-led, interactive training programs for college students, young professionals and businesses.

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