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Advice From a Partner On How To Make Partner For Those Who Don’t Want to Be Partner

We now present to you, dear GC readers, the third of our potential Going Concern freelancer submissions. Let's give Andrew a "warm" GC welcome!

There were four of us in the car at the time.  I was the senior; there was a staff person, the manager, and the engagement partner.  It was a second or third quarter review and we were on our way to dinner with the client.  The partner, who was a laid back guy that liked the finer things in life (the type of person who knows that Bonefish Grill has a special “reserve” wine list that you have to ask for), was answering a question about how he made partner.  After giving a few standard firm lines he said something that stuck with me: “If you want to make it in the firm you need to be really technically smart, really great at selling the firm, or have just the right amount of both.  If you have neither, you may as well get out now.”

Now, it may seem that his statement was just another neutral quip that was really meant to be all inclusive: “There is room at the firm for those that are really smart, or those that have great personalities, or even those who have a good balance of the two.”  But I don’t think that was what he meant, and that was when I knew my days in public accounting were numbered.

You see, my interpretation of what he said was: “You can become a car salesman and travel the world selling the firm 24/7 (not for me), you can buy yourself a pocket protector and sit in the ivory tower that is National Office and dispense accounting interpretations like you are handing down the word of God (not for me), or you can be one of those partners with a portfolio of small public and large private clients who works twenty-three hours a day reviewing reports, concurring on other clients’ reports, and returning client phone calls (definitely not for me).”

Why am I telling you all of this?  Well I know that many of you have no desire to become a partner.  If all you are looking to do is make five years, get the all-important, “Manager,” title on your résumé, and then jump ship for something easier and more enjoyable, I think I found the easiest way to do so: research, research, and more research.  I know that researching sounds counter-intuitive as the easiest way to do something, but I honestly think that if you can prove yourself to be technically superior, both in accounting guidance and auditing procedures, then you will have a relatively easy path to becoming a manager.

Going back to the partner’s comment on how to be successful at the firm, he was speaking from a position that assumed you wanted to go all the way.  However, if manager is your endgame, then trying to become an egghead might be your best bet.  How are you going to, “sell the firm,” as a second year?  As long as you don’t post a video of yourself making anti-Semitic remarks on YouTube, you have pretty much fulfilled your responsibility.  Oh, you convinced the controller at your client to sign up for your firm’s online GAAP checklist?  Congratulations, you made the firm $1,000.  That might be enough to cover dinner for a partner and his mistress (but definitely not their room at the Four Seasons).  Unless you’re bringing in six-figure projects, which we all know isn’t happening, selling your firm is not going to be the easier route to ensure you make manager.

On the other side of that, if you knock out a three page technical memo that evaluates the client’s adoption of ASU 2011-08 and details its new process for qualitatively evaluating goodwill impairment, importantly saving the manager from having to do so, then your name will definitely be brought up during evaluation time as someone who achieves beyond his or her level.  If you aren’t looking to make partner, the mid-year and year-end evaluation periods are where you need to shine.  Anything you can do to make your manager’s life a little easier will earn you a positive mention in those meetings.

“But Andrew,” you say, “I have no idea of where to even begin looking for accounting research.  What do I do?”  Ask someone.  It’s usually pretty easy to figure out who the really technical people are in any office.  Find one and just ask him or her to show you where to locate the firm’s accounting research materials.  He or she will probably just tell you to open up Internet Explorer and click on the, “Accounting Technical Library,” link that was automatically included in your “Favorites,” but hopefully he or she will also show you some easy ways to search and navigate the usually cumbersome interface.

From there it is just a matter of becoming familiar with the layout of your research tools.  The codification of accounting standards has actually made guidance much easier to find, so don’t be intimidated by the senior managers and partners who still throw out references to FAS 157 or FIN 48 (those don’t exist anymore).  All you need to do is find the sections on fair value measurement and income taxes (ASC 820 and 740, respectively).  Make sure to include a lot of those references in your memos.  It’s like catnip for reviewers.

I’m not saying this is the only way to make it to manager in public accounting, and circumstances may vary from firm size to office location, but I can tell you that I am a life-long underachiever and was able to make it to manager and then leave on my own terms to take another job that affords me a vastly greater quality of life (and the spare time to share my experiences with you).