Can consultants move back into practice?
Mark Lee looks at how career opportunities and priorities are changing for ambitious accountants.
When I first qualified as a chartered accountant in 1982 my overriding ambition was to make it to the top and become a partner. I recall one recruitment consultant encouraging me to aim for my “name on the notepaper”. It’s what we all wanted in those days – older readers will remember seeing all the partners’ names on their firm’s headed paper.
Even in the 1980s it was assumed that once you became a partner you would stay with the firm for the rest of your career. These days partners are far more mobile and frequently move from one firm to another.
We’re also seeing more ex-partners strike out on their own to become consultants. They may have done so because they didn’t want to stick around after a merger (or weren’t wanted). Their old firm may have ceased to trade through no fault of their own. Or perhaps they simply chose to move away from conventional practice work, as did I in 2001 – although it wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to give up offering tax advice myself.
Not everyone is cut out for consultancy work. Others make a good living from it and a fair number decide after a while that, on balance, it would be good to get back into practice. They have new skills to offer but no conventional client following.
Thirty years ago no one would have countenanced the idea of ex-partners returning to practice. These days the value that such consultants can bring if they rejoin the profession is immense. In many cases they may be the only senior person to have worked outside accountancy. Their perspective and experience will add something valuable to what the firm offers. They may also help enhance the way the firm itself is run – depending upon how arrogant the current partners are.
Mark Lee is chairman of the Tax Advice Network and consultant practice editor for AccountingWEB.co.uk.