Ask any fresh-faced graduate in a professional services firm, (all the way up to Big 4) whether they want to make partner.  Almost all of them will say yes, unequivocally. Who doesn’t want the status, glory and rewards of partnership? However, do they really know what it means?  In this post, we look at the reality behind the trapping and status of making partner.

What does it really mean to make partner?

It’s easy to get beguiled by the glamour side of making partner. To be sure, many partners, particularly in the larger firms, such as the Big 4, get large financial rewards for doing what they do.   It’s true, partners entertain clients at international sports matches, the theatre, top restaurants.  It does seem a rather wonderful lifestyle.

But, remember. Partners also tend to:

  • be married and divorced several times – many partners are married to the job first,
  • have high blood pressure and other stress-related illnesses caused by trying to balance client and staff demands along with running the firm,
  • be paid less than directors and salaried partners when profits are low,
  • spend many evenings networking with people they may not really choose to spend time with,
  • spend more time in hotels visiting clients than at home with their families,
  • have trouble relating to their children because they are rarely home before bedtime.

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

It’s not just putting ‘Partner’ on the business card

There is more to making partner than ticking off a goal. You become a business owner. Yes, that means you own part of your firm.  This is another responsibility that you didn’t have when you were a director, and being the owner of a firm really changes your way of thinking.  Now as well as keeping your team and clients happy, completing assignments to time and under budget, winning new business . . . you also have to run the firm. Oh, and you need to buy your stake in the firm when you are asked to join the partnership. In my days at BDO, this was £60k, and most new partners took a bank loan to fund their stake in the business.

When you make partner, you become self employed, and are paid according to your share of the profits that the firm makes.  This means that in a year where the company struggles to make a profit, you may not actually make any money. Of course, in big firms, this is very rate, but it is still very real.

So, why do people want to make partner?

Despite the downsides, at the end of the day, making partner is still the holy grail of professional services. When I ask people why they wanted to make partner, they usually reply with something along these lines:

  • Isn’t that what everyone professional wants?
  • The status that comes from having Partner on my business card.
  • More autonomy and control over my work.
  • More interesting work.
  • The financial rewards that come with making partner.
  • The security of owning part of the firm.
  • I wanted to be the person making the decisions.


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These are all very real and valid reasons, and many people who make partner have a very fulfilled and mentally stimulating career.   It’s a question of balance, and I assure you, it is possible to make partner and still have a life!

My point really is that making partner is not something you have to do. It’s a choice, and one that you should not take lightly.

You may like to read my post on the pros and cons of making partner, or sign up for your free career kitbag, where you will find everything you have ever wished for (and other things that haven’t even occurred to you) to help you along the tricky path to making partner.

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