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A job that I’d hate (managing partner)

22nd Jun 2017
Partner An unnamed firm
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If Prince Harry is right and nobody in the Royal family wants to become King in the fullness of time, I’d happily chuck my hat into the ring.

While some of the media attention might be rather tedious, that Royal List, the tax breaks, use of half a dozen palaces, international travel plus the gifts from my loyal subjects seem like pretty fair compensation to me.

Having seen it at rather closer quarters, the job I would avoid like the plague is that of managing partner at any practice with more than half a dozen partners.

In my early days in the profession, becoming leader of your firm always seemed like an obvious aspiration. You would get a ludicrously high salary for steering a bunch of highly trained and motivated professionals to do what they were good at.

From bitter experience, I now realise that in many cases the closest analogy for this job is captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

For reasons that were never entirely apparent, almost every firm that I have worked for was less successful than the partners would like. In some firms, this was little more than a case of greed, in others the partners were earning less than relatively junior members of staff, while fighting to stave off the keen attentions of their bank manager.

Partners’ motivations are also often questionable and the most effective managing partners were those who could make difficult decisions quickly. Carrying dead wood is very expensive and would act as a massive demotivator for the superstar partners, who struggled to see why they were obliged to give up a large share of their hard earned profits to subsidise slackers.

Regulation has also made life much more difficult for all and inevitably the buck will stop with the managing partner if a serious failure occurs.

Add in the possibility of getting sued out of existence and I can’t understand why anybody other than a power-crazed megalomaniac or a selfless sacrificial lamb would seek the role.

It doesn’t help that neither accountancy training nor working as (say) an audit partner in a firm of accountants provides much useful experience for someone taking on the kind of managerial role that is better suited to those who have worked in the top echelons of many of our clients in the real world. To be a little more blunt, accountants are great when it comes to advising clients but really lousy at running their own businesses.

However, in the real world, just as Princes Charles and William will eventually have a whale of a time when they get on to the throne, candidates are constantly queueing up and fighting for the privilege of taking on an equivalent role at every practice I have ever observed.

All that I can say is good luck to them.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
22nd Jun 2017 21:36

My late father's law firm addressed the issue by making the second partner the "office" partner not the senior partner, in effect each did their stint getting to be senior partner.

So partner 2 spent a chunk of his day managing the staff, office, etc , the others just got on with the day job-fees.

However as they were only a 5 partner/20 staff firm it was not that onerous.

They got around training by despatching those destined for partnership elsewhere, my father before he was made a profit sharing partner in his early 30s spent about 18 months acting as a locum for a sole practitioner in Grangemouth who had taken ill, he ran his practice, learned the role on a small scale and even had the two occasions in his career when he actually spoke in court- one was defending a poacher and the other was defending a man riding a bike without lights.

However this was the 1950s-1980s, life has moved on as has the volume of red tape (not just that used to tie briefs)

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By Brend201
23rd Jun 2017 11:31

I know the managing partner of a large firm. He is a modest man but with great ability. Not apparently driven or ambitious. He told me that all of the serious problems end up on his desk, including high-profile issues. He seems to cope. I don't know how.

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By Justin Bryant
26th Jun 2017 10:39

That's all hardly surprising, since a partnership is simply a microcosm of the state and so political skills are needed to try keep everyone happy. As Frédéric Bastiat (he of opportunity cost) said:

"Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."

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