Good morning capital market servants. Presumably, none of you were on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday which also probably means you've still got a job, a career to think about, etc. etc. Right! that career. How's that going by the way? Are you on the partner track or do you have partner tracks on your back? Haven't given it much thought lately but hey, this is what you're doing and sure, making partner seems like a sweet gig, amiright? Well an interesting statement from the Grumpy Old Accountants today got me to thinking about all of you hoping for a seat at the big table:
In fact, in the Big Four accounting firms today, if you don’t make partner, you often are considered a loser.
Now this little snippet comes out of a much larger discussion about why some many accountants are cheaters (it's because everyone wants to be perceived as a "winner"). That's a fine discussion as well, and the GOA post is worth a read, but we'll focus on the notion that "no partner = loser."
I certainly had my own partner aspirations for a brief point in time and many of you out there in Big 4 land have them right now. For me, my attitude changed when I observed a few partners, saw what their workload and lives were like and thought, "JESUS H. CHRIST, BEING A PARTNER SUCKS."
The problem is, if you're appear to be making a career for yourself at a Big 4 firm (I was quite the nomad which doesn't really work), what is the ultimate goal? No one says to themselves, "I'd be fine with making Senior Manager in 8-10 years and then spending THE NEXT 30 in that same position." As such, partner is a goal for many of you. However, we all know that Senior Manager is a parking lot in most service lines, so it may not be 30 years at SM but it'll sure seem like 30. Having said that, if you like your firm, are reasonably good to FUCKING AWESOME at your job, then why wouldn't you want to make partner? Not all Big 4 partners are created equal but if you're on the fast track at PwC, would doing anything less than being admitted to the partnership satisfy your professional ambitions? And if you give up on career goals because…well, just because…does that not make you a L-O-S-E-R?
The answer is no. Personally, I've seen plenty of people with partner-level talent, hot on the partner track give it up because 1) something better comes along; 2) They want their life back; 3) SOMETHING BETTER COMES ALONG. In fact, many new partners are working harder than ever (i.e. "like a 2nd Year Senior Associate" has been overheard). Does that sound like a "winner" to you? GOA might have it exactly bassackwards. The last thing most Big 4 alums will tell you is that they feel like losers because they didn't make partner. Quite the opposite in fact. It's probably more accurate to say you're a loser if you think you've got a shot at making partner at a Big 4 firm.
UDPATE: Professor Ketz clarifies below (seen via Twitter) that they the GOAs were talking about the culture within the Big 4 firms rather than you individual losers:
As we said, "… IN THE BIG FOUR ACCOUNTING FIRMS TODAY, if you don’t make partner, you often are considered a loser" (emphasis added). We were discussing the culture of the large accounting firms–we were not discussing our evaluations of those who are not partners. After all, we aren't partners and we hope we aren't losers!!
I'll continue my contrary narrative here and argue that this not the case either. As we know, Big 4 firms sell themselves as great places to start careers but they don't regularly make the case that this is where you want to spend 15-20 years of your professional life. The culture inside has evolved to accept attrition as part of the formula and that younger professionals are anxious when it comes to getting ahead. In fact, things have changed so much that convincing the talented professionals to stay is part of the culture. Hearing "You've got a bright future here," from a pair of partners over lunch is standard these days because they know the "winners" will leave and the "losers" don't know when to get out.