Not everyone is destined to become a tax partner and there is a lack of open discussion within Firms about how to progress from senior manager or director grades to partnership.
If you think it happens like a normal promotion then you may be in for a shock.
The interview below is between Alison Keogh and Heather Townsend (pictured above) and aims to shed light on what steps you need to take in order to achieve partnership.
Heather was an Executive Coach and then Learning and Development Business Partner at BDO Stoy Hayward in the UK. For the past 7 years she has advised aspiring and existing partners on how to build their brand, profile and visibility. Alison Keogh is Associate Director at Pro-Tax. She heads up the team at Pro-Tax which is a specialist tax recruitment firm. Working in all areas of both practice and in-house Pro-Tax has a specialist executive search team that focuses purely on lateral tax partner recruitment moves in the UK tax market.
AK. You have many years experience coaching accountants and lawyers who aspire to partnership. How important are relationships for someone who wants to become a tax partner?
HT: Relationships are paramount. In order to become a Partner in a firm Trust is the foundation of everything. The Partners in your firm need to Trust you enough to give you a slice of the firm, if you haven’t got this, you will never make Partner. As well as all of the Partners trusting you, it is important to find champions within your firm, by this I mean that behind each Partner promotion there is always a sponsor or advocate who speak positively about that individual and champions the promotion to Partner. However, the crucial point to this answer really is building your network outside of your comfort zone. It is imperative that you cross pollenate by specialism, region and sector. The more people you have saying positive things about you the more you will succeed. If you haven’t built your internal relationships then you need to start now.
AK. I have heard you speak about the importance of feeling, thinking and acting like a partner in the years preceding any promotion. Why is this critical?
HT: If you are not thinking, feeling and acting like a Partner then you will never be perceived as someone who can be part of the firm. You must put yourself forward and the partnership must know that you want a slice of the firm, they won’t read your mind and they can’t assume that everyone wants partnership. Once you have made the Partners aware of your intentions it is then really important to run your own department/ team as if it were your own mini business, think about profitability, think about your “go to market” strategy. Ask yourself “What is my niche? What do I bring to the table?” You need to be building your brand within the firm and externally with your clients. If you have a brand then the Partners will not want to lose you.
I advise people to think about the 5 P’s, when acting like a Partner;
- Pace Yourself
- Push Down
If you are doing all of these, then the Partners within your firm will see that you are taking your role as a leader very seriously and they will see how important your career is to you.
AK. There is a perception that if you work very long hours and consistently bring in large chunks of new business to your Firm, partnership is inevitable. Is this the bottom line?
HT: No, not at all. In fact, if you are doing all of the above and you are doing it well then this is a far more structured approach to getting Partnership than burning yourself out and then being disappointed with the end result. There are 3 factors that you must consider whilst on your journey to Partnership
- Making your Partners life easy – if there is a perception that whilst you bring in a lot of work, you also take up a lot of Partner time, you become a hindrance to your Partner. If you don’t follow best practice and the rest of the firm have to complain about you to the Partners, you are still not making the Partners life very easy, no matter how many hours you bill or how many clients your bring to the firm. Follow best practice and make your Partners life easy. It’s not all about the money when it comes to making Partner, that is just part of the promotion criteria and as a serious and mature leader you will understand this. Do you make your Partners life easy?
- Take care of yourself – simply put, you are of little use to the Partnership if by the time you get there you are burnt out and have no energy. Take regular breaks and re-energise yourself. Eat well, exercise and have downtime in your personal life.
- Take care of your Family – Being happy at home makes you happy at work. If working extremely long hours will disrupt your family life to such an extent that it starts to affect your work, then this needs addressing. There needs to be a certain understanding from your friends and family, that, in order to make Partner you need to work hard and on occasion there will be sacrifices, but don’t overdo it and have time for your personal life. Whilst you need champions and advocates in work, it is important to have the support of your loved ones to.
AK. If people who read this article are doing all of the above and making Partner is not in sight, what is your advice to them?
HT: Individuals need to think about the firm that they are in and is it the right fit? Sometimes you can do everything right, but if you are not the right fit for the partnership then you will never be promoted. So ask yourself this, do you fit within your current firm? Is it time to start laying the foundations in a firm where you do fit before it’s too late? If people are thinking this I would highly recommend that they speak to you Alison and have a chat about other firms so that they can find themselves a firm that is the right culture fit for them.
AK I think many tax professionals think that they have ‘made it’ when they achieve equity partnership, only to find that there is a whole pyramid structure above them and that their voice is not heard. Do you also counsel new partners to help them navigate the politics ahead of them and raise their internal profile?
HT: Yes, whilst I work with both individuals and firms in order to help people get to Partner I can also engage with people and coach existing Partners. My business will offer a free hour’s counselling session if you contact me via Pro-Tax.
AK: Thanks you for your time Heather and if anyone reading this article would like me to put them in touch with Heather and her team for a free session please call me on 0207 269 6312 or email Alison.Keogh@pro-tax.co.uk
Heather is a leading author and publisher and is ICAEW’s most influential person of the year working together with Alison who is a leading tax recruiter in the UK. Together they are fully knowledgeable in the market and have an exceptional network to help you connect to the right people. They can help you achieve your career goals.
Pro-Tax and Pro-Legal have recently held 2 “How to Make Partner events” that have received fantastic feedback, did you miss out? Couldn’t make it this time? Sign up for further Pro-Tax events.
For a preview of the event, or for the full video of the evening and presentation slides please click here.