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Ladder AccountingWEB Young talent decline the climb up the corporate ladder

Young talent declines the climb up the corporate ladder


Who wants to be a partner? The Imprudent Accountant grapples with this question as many firms are suffering from a dearth of partnership aspirants. But is there a solution?

9th May 2024
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Not so long ago, the answer to this question was generally the same as that to the question posed by Cole Porter, “Who wants to be a millionaire?”

That was pretty much everybody apart from those in the musical and film, High Society.

The reasons were pretty similar as well, becoming a partner in a well-heeled accountancy firm may not necessarily have made you a millionaire but it would get pretty close.

However, many new accountants appear to have lower aspirations and regard their work as a means of supporting their lifestyles rather than a career.

The impact of this new attitude 

While there are undoubtedly some youngsters who will work themselves into the ground in the hope of reaching the pinnacle of their profession, far more see nothing wrong in working for a couple of years to make some money then swanning off around the world before doing the same again.

Others have decided that working long hours, even for high pay, isn’t worth the effort and would rather concentrate on that recent invention, work/life balance with emphasis on the second leg of that phrase.

One consequence is that many firms have succession issues, struggling to find young colleagues willing to put in the hard work and, just as significantly, the cash needed to facilitate comfortable retirements for their predecessors.

In part, this explains the rash of “mergers”, sales of client blocks and transfers of niche practices into larger organisations. I have been a partner in two firms that eventually sold out for that reason.

In many ways, this is a pity since it reduces the choice not only for those wishing to employ accountants but also for those keen to work in the profession.

This is prevalent in the mid-tier, which constantly seems to be shrinking as larger firms take over some, while others lose clients to the next group down, who can price more competitively, even if the service isn’t as good. I have little doubt that a similar pattern is afflicting smaller practices as well.

Get planning 

If you are currently a partner in a firm and beginning to contemplate retirement in the not-too-distant future, it might be a good idea to begin the succession planning process sooner rather than later.

With a bit of luck, you may be able to identify likely candidates from within your practice. If not, then you might need to employ the services of a headhunter or start a less formal recruitment process.

Then comes the fun part. Not so much selling your practice, as selling the benefits of becoming a partner to bright young whippersnappers who have yet to be convinced.

This might come down to racking your brains to remember those heady days of youth when the only thing that really mattered to you was climbing the greasy pole and reaching the top.

There are a number of different attractions to becoming a partner in a firm of accountants, whether Big Four, mid-tier or perhaps something a little smaller and cuddlier.

These could include:

  • a thirst for power;
  • the belief that earning megabucks is the route to happiness;
  • a boost for the ego and an opportunity to boast at those class reunions that you’re currently too embarrassed to attend;
  • the intellectual stimulation that comes from running a business;
  • becoming a role model for members of your particular grouping, especially if that happens to be a minority or, if you’re a woman, a majority that still hasn’t been fully respected and recognised in the upper echelons of our profession;
  • companionship with a group of like-minded people who form a partnership team; and
  • for some, there might even be a burning desire to provide affordable services to those who desperately need them, whether charities or impecunious individuals.

Readers will have many of their own ideas about what made them become leaders and we would love to hear about them.

Replies (1)

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By FactChecker
10th May 2024 18:52

Maybe the world needs less 'leaders' and more independent thinkers?

Based on the leaders out there (political, big business, etc) there's little evidence of their beneficial impact on wider society.
Or indeed of the power/control business model (to which author attributes the drivers of becoming a partner) having a long-term future.

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