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I’m 47 – is this too late to make partner?

30th Jun 2013
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When I started in accountancy, it was considered good going to be a partner in a mid-tier practice or a Big 4 partner by the age of 30. It was also taken as read that if you were still not a partner by the age of 40 your odds of making it were getting longer by the day. So, my question today, are you too old to make partner at the age of 47? 

You may wonder where I picked the age 47 from - it was a question I was asked recently.

In the ‘ideal world’
Before anyone starts to pull me up on age discrimination. In an ideal world, there should be no barrier to you making partner regardless of your age or gender. However, there are powerful legal organisational reasons why your age may actually be a barrier to you making partner at the age of 47.

Let’s consider the organisational view point
Most partnerships have a partnership agreement which requires it’s partners to retire from the partnership between the ages of 60 & 65. This helps make sure that new blood can come through into the partnership. As a partner is nearing retirement age, it is good practice to have a transition plan where the partner winds down and starts to handover their portfolio over a period of a couple of years. Let’s assume for practical reasons, that in your firm partners at the age of 60 start this transition.

If it takes about 5 years to establish yourself into your partnership, then if you made partner at 50, you would still have at least 5 years where you are delivering value over and beyond fees to your other partners. The question is, whether your firm has the commitment to you and your career to want to only have ~5 years of real value of you being in the partnership.

It all rests on your ability to win work
Regardless of your age, the first barrier to being made up to a partner is do you have a business case to show that you will be able to build up a partner-sized client portfolio? If you are 47, and don't yet have a client following or the skills to quickly build up a client following, it's going to be difficult to make partner. If you can demonstrate to your partners that you are able to have a decent sized client portfolio by the time you are 50, then you have every chance of making partner.

What to do now
If you are wondering whether you are too old to make partner in your practice, I would check out some assumptions with some key partners within your practice who you trust. You want to understand, by checking our these assumptions, what you need to show in your personal and business case:

  • What would you need to demonstrate to be seen as partnership material?
  • What size of client portfolio do new partners need to grow and in what time frame?
  • Where is the likely growth coming from in your firm – and where will new partners be needed?
  • What skill sets or technical specialisms are going to become very important to the firm in the next 5 years

For help with thinking about or writing your personal and business case for partnership, download our free guide to writing your personal business case for partnership. (email required)

Secondly, I would think about what you want from the next 15 years of your working life. If you yearn to be running the show and operating at partnership level, how about considering building up your profile and expertise, as the Go-To-Expert for something. This will give you the option of starting your own practice, or moving to a smaller practice where your client portfolio and skill set will be in more demand. If you are quite happy doing a good job and don’t need to see partner on your business card, then is there the option to remain at your firm, in effect becoming a career manager?

In our career kitbag is a free guide to planning your career. (email required) which will help you think about what you want from the next 10-15 years of your career.

Author Credit

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the Go-To-Expert. She is the author of the  award winning and best-selling book on business networking, the ‘FT Guide To Business Networking’ and the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’. Over the last decade she has worked with over 300 partners; coached, trained and mentored over 1000 professionals at every level of the UK's most ambitious professional practices.

Heather blogs regularly at How to make partner and still have a life and Joined Up Networking


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Replies (3)

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By macdougall
02nd Jul 2013 13:39

Your age

I didn't read further than the writer pretending that (s)he's not 47

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By Tom 7000
03rd Jul 2013 17:46


I am 83 and a Junior manager at a small firm of accountants

My 3 best friends are the FDs of Barclays and HSBC and BP their combined audit fees are £100m


If I stroll into the one big 4 firm who doesnt audit these and point out I can bring the 3 clients with me.... the questions is.....should my new chauffer be blonde or brunette?






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By paulcolman
04th Jul 2013 09:16

Do it yourself

Regardless of age, if you think you have everything that is needed to be a partner, and you're not  getting the opportunity, set up your own firm.

Technology has made this fairly easy and cheap to do, although quite time consuming. I did almost everything myself and it's going well so far. An even easier but more expensive option is an accounting franchise.


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