How to make partner at a Big 4 firm? (part 2)

big4 Big 4 partner buy in client portfolio

Why do professionals want to be a Big 4 partner?

Becoming a Big 4 partner is generally seen as the pinnacle of excellence and achievement for any accountant or consultant. In this second of a series of blog posts, we will discuss what you need to do to be a Big 4 partner, and the differences between getting to partnership at a mid-tier firm and at a Big 4  firm. (for the 1st part of this article click here)

The Director role may or may not be a dead end for your career

I’ve worked in and with the accountancy profession for the last ten years. Over time the expectations for career progression for the role of director has changed, and then sometimes changed back again. You see the problem is the profession has not really decided on what to do with the highly technical experts, who are very valuable to the firm, but really not partnership material. Therefore, sometimes firms pick their potential partners from their senior manager population, and only promote to director if you are partnership material. Other times, they may bypass the director title all together and promote people from senior manager to partner,  only promoting technical specialists who they don’t think will make it to partner to director. In the past KPMG have promoted directly from senior manager to partner, but now are only promoting people to director if they think they will make partner.

BDO used to have a similar philosophy. If you were promoted to supervisor, you were seen to be manager potential. The same happened at director level, if you were promoted to director you were seen to be partnership potential. If they didn’t think you could cut it as a partner, you would not make it to director.

I think it is fair to say that it doesn’t matter whether you are at a mid-tier or Big 4 firm, your first step is to find out what qualities, skills, behaviours are required at senior manager, director and partner level, and how your firm’s promotion process actually works. The key difference is that at a Big 4 firm this will be extensively documented and (should) be available to you to read.

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More flexibility

Because the Big 4 are so big, they can afford to have slightly more flexibility around who they need within the partnership. Basically, because they have a bigger partnership pool size, they have more slots to fill than the mid-tier firms. Now, don’t get me wrong, you will still need to have shown that you can develop and win business, regardless of whether you are at a Big 4 or mid-tier firm. However, at a Big 4 you may not need to have already developed as big a portfolio as if you were at BDO or GT to get considered for promotion to partnership. (This actually surprised me). With the Big 4 it’s more your potential for developing a partner-sized client portfolio, rather than what you have already done with business development. (see here to find out the typical size of a big 4 partner’s client portfolio)

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Working hours

In these last few blog posts we have written, hopefully, a balanced view point of the differences of making partner at a Big 4 and at a mid-tier firm. It would be remiss of me not to mention the lifestyle and working hours side of things. After all, the Big 4 firms will want their pound of flesh from you. Most Big 4 partners I speak to are aware that in return for being handsomely rewarded for their time and efforts, they are expected to work longer hours. As one partner at Deloitte said to me:

there will always be 3 of us in our marriage
Of course, along with the working hard, there is always the playing hard side of things. I remember when I was a lot younger and regularly socialising with the Deloitte, Andersens (they were still around then), PWC and E&Y trainees. They were always having drinks on a Friday, which a partner had put a reasonable amount of money on a tab for them. They regularly attended black tie parties run by the firm or away jobs where they got to stay together in a reasonable hotel. At the end of the day, it’s all about choice. If you do want the rewards of a partnership in the Big 4 firm, remember you will need to earn them!

FREE guide to accelerate your career in a Big 4 Firm
Author Credit:
Written by Heather Townsend, who helps professionals become the The Go-To Expert. 

Heather is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’, co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’, and 'The Go-To Expert'

 To find out whether I can help you read 'is this you

 Connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter
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