I have been privileged to help several senior managers in a Big 4 make it to Director and then help them along their way to Partner. In this article, ‘Partner versus Director,’ I share what I have learnt along the way, in particular, what is the difference between a Big 4 partner versus director.

Big 4 Partner versus Director

In many ways, the Director role within a Big 4 firm – whether you have the title Executive Director, Director or Associate Partner, is akin to an audition for Partner. Most Big 4 firms will not make you up into this role unless there is a business case for Director. In reality, if you make it to Director, your firm sees that you are likely to make it to partner, and your business case for Director is often a potential business case for Partner.

To make it from Senior Manager to Director in a Big 4 firm…

You need to realise that you can’t just be a great senior manager. You have to be able to win work – either via your firm’s internal or international network or clients which are completely new to the firm. Before you can get promoted to director in a Big 4 firm you need to be able to prove (amongst other things) to your firm that:

  • You can win your own clients
  • There is enough business out there to sustain you at Director and normally Partner
  • You can balance the demands of hitting your billable targets AND going out and winning work
  • You think commercially and are already acting as if you are a Director
  • You can build and implement a business plan to grow a practice

What needs to change if you want to go from Director to Partner in a Big 4 firm?

As I have already mentioned when it comes to being a Director in a Big 4, your partners already have some level of confidence that you will make it to Partner. For example, your partners will be considering whether your business case for Director is also strong enough for you to make it to Partner. Think of making it to Director as a strong indication that you can make it to Partner. However, making it to Director doesn’t mean to say that you are an absolute certainty to make it to Partner. Your partners are now wanting you to take the final step to making Partner. This normally means:

  • Building a team beneath you to service the work you win and help you win more work
  • Winning much more work than you do now. Often as much as £3m in any one year…
  • Demonstrating that you are really thinking like a business owner, such as having a detailed business plan, not just a plan of how you will win business
  • Being seen by your internal and external firm network as ‘good enough for partner’


Making Partner in a Big 4 from is not about being a high performing Director. You need to have proved to your partners that you are now thinking and acting like a Big 4 partner and have grown a profitable and sustainable practice.  

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