What it takes to become a partner

We take a look at how you can take stock of your strong and not so strong skills sets. Alex Miller writes

A new partner is expected to be an influential ambassador, developing strong teams and capitalising upon opportunities to develop the business through networking and presentations – but how do you make that transition?

Research by ACCA indicates that nearly 70% of accountants believe luck has a large part to play in achieving a leadership position, but there are many ways that trainees can improve their odds.

To make partner you will need to be skilful in your communications so that you can develop new business, artfully negotiate, influence decision makers and present confidently – these are the qualities that will set you apart as top talent.

Key areas

Many firms are now ensuring that the partners of tomorrow are trained in the key areas essential for partners. These skills also include leadership, client service skills and financial performance.

Surveys often find several essential characteristics essential to becoming a partner. These include leadership behaviour, client service skills and financial performance.

In order to develop and for preparation to best act as a partner, consider signing up for leadership programmes.

Attend conferences for the opportunity, while another great initiative is for trainees to be assigned a ‘shepherd’ colleague who is accountable for helping trainees to establish goals and progress.

Complete qualification

‘First, you will need to be qualified with ACCA with a number of years experience within a professional services environment, with technical excellence across accounts, audit and tax,’ says Lorraine Twist, operating director at Michael Page Finance.

‘You must have the ability to manage staff, to interact with clients and to have an impact and commerciality.’

Once you progress to a senior management level in the professional service environment, the role changes dramatically from a technical focus to a more strategic focus.

It involves being more client focused and commercially adding revenue to the business. Networking, pitching to clients and winning and developing businesses will all lead to becoming a partner – as well as impact, commerciality and drive.

Antony Mason, a senior practice consultant at Capita Specialist Recruitment, says: ‘Possibly the most important factor in becoming a partner is being fully qualified. It might sound obvious but there is absolutely no chance of reaching this level without the required qualifications. ’

Technical competence

On top of this, professionals will need to be able to show they are technically competent and possess excellent leadership and relationship building skills. It is also likely that the individual will have received coaching and guidance from senior leaders at some point in their career.

Becoming a partner is a big step and it is not for everyone, and anyone who is not committed to seeking out work and taking ownership of projects is likely to miss out.

While making partner is a badge of achievement, partnerships can often seem impenetrable to new entrants to the profession.

Attitudes of current partners

Recruitment experts Hays recently asked 400 partners in UK accountancy practices about their educational background, qualifications and advice for the next generation of partners.

Kathryn Swan, head of Hays Public Practice, adds: ‘The research found that while all partners had taken a different route to the top, they all shared a common love of their profession, keen commercial awareness, an aptitude for client service, an entrepreneurial mindset and a willingness to adapt to change.

‘Most partners are graduates, 68% of partners said they had a university education and, of these, 6% studied at Oxford or Cambridge and 40% at a red brick university. Also, 16% of our respondents held the ACCA Qualification, and it is particularly popular among independent regional practices – we expect this percentage to continue to rise.

‘The path to partnership was sometimes quicker in regional firms, 61% of partners overall had 10 years’ post-qualification experience or less before making partner, but this rose to 74% for respondents from regional firms.’

Be an entrepreneur

An entrepreneurial attitude is also essential for aspiring partners. The overwhelming majority of current partners believe that having a can-do attitude was the most important personal characteristic leading to their success, followed by enthusiasm, flexible thinking and ambition.

This reflects that fact that partners are focused on running their businesses and serving their clients to the best of their abilities.

"...research found that while all partners had taken a different route to the top, they all shared a common love of their profession, keen commercial awareness, an aptitude for client service, an entrepreneurial mindset and a willingness to adapt to change"

Kathryn Swan - Hays Public Practice