Making partner: How long does it take?

When I started in professional services in 2004, making partner by the age of 30 was seen as very, very good going – and only the exceptional people did this. The few partners who did this were always spoken of in hallowed tones, and seen to be the managing partners of the future. Back in 2004, if you hadn’t made partner by the age of 40, you were probably never going to. However, now it is the norm to get made up to partner at around the age of 40. So, what has changed in the last 10 years or so?

The number of partners are shrinking

Over the last few years the numbers of partners have been shrinking, and will probably carry on this way as the consolidation trend continues across the professional services sector. Therefore, the number of people making partner has shrunk over the last 10 years.

Why has the number of partners shrunk?

With profit margins reducing over the last 5+ years, partnerships are less willing to reduce the size of the ‘pie’ and therefore are less willing to make up people to the partnership who don’t have a client portfolio. i.e. before you get partner on your business card you need to be a card-carrying rainmaker for the firm. (Not always the case, but you need to have at least demonstrated your potential to win work.)

Consequently, the time for people to get to partnership has increased over the last 5 years, as new entrants to the partnership need to gain a client portfolio first. From, possibly 10 year to partnership to now more like 15 years. As a consequence, most people are making partnership around the age of 40 now.

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How long for me to make partner?

Of course, I can’t comment on your own individual circumstances, however, as a rough guide it is worth thinking that it will take 10-15 years, on average to make partner. Therefore, if you enter the profession at 22, then you need to be thinking about making partner at the earliest at 32, and nearer to 37…

It may be different for senior lateral hires into Big 4 firms

After Arthur Andersen folded and the introduction of Sarbanes Oxley the Big 4 firms all sold off the consulting part of their firm. We’ve now seen the reverse of this decision with the Big 4 firms growing their consultancy arms again, and often making multiple acquisitions of independent practices. As a result, the Big 4 consulting practices are selectively courting senior decision makers from industry into consulting. These people are coming in at Senior Manager or Director level with a view to being rapidly made up to partner if they can prove themselves as work winners.

 

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