Skip to main content

road to becoming a partner

A buddy at a big4 and I were talking the other day how much harder it must be to make partner nowadays. Back in the SOX boom, it seemed like the road was a lot easier.

Your friend is absolutely right. It was significantly easier back then (relatively speaking). At the end of the day, it's all about the benjamins. Money was pouring in during the 404 era and so the partners needed morehands on deck to spread the responsibility around, especially since their coffers were being filled with dollars, so there was more money to spread around. The economy was booming, there were more startups, which means more companies needing audits, and thus more $$ coming in. Life was good for the partners. Spread the wealth around, but still have enough money to buy themselves that beach house for the summer.

And then 2008 happened.

Nobody was leaving the firms, which meant a bloated payroll. There were no IPOs. Startups stopped getting financings. Companies started trying to cut costs, and aimed at audit fees. The coffers were emptying fast. The partner promotions decreased significantly since then, since there wasn't enough money to spread around and the current partners needed to maintain the size of their wallets. So the number of senior managers just shot up. There were and still are a glut of people one step below partner. Why are they still there? Some are hanging on to the illusion that there's a 10-20% chance of them becoming partner. Some don't know what else they can do since they don't have the requisite private experience to be a controller, and can't be demoted to an assistant controller position.
And then the last group found that comfort zone. The zone contains the following - a) They don't carry the level of risk on their shoulders that Partners do. b) They make decent money c) They've got managers doing the stressful review work and the senior associates and below doing the grunt work, so they can just focus on the high level issues. d) They've got a very high level of flexibility, and they can tend to family needs when necessary, even at times during busy season.

I'm glad to report now that with the increased IPO and financing activity, the $$$ are rolling in slowly. There was an uptick in partner promotions this year. 404 was a boon though, and that was almost like an expansion era in sports. When a sport is booming, it wants to expand everywhere, like the NHL going to warm weather places like Florida and Georgia. Now it's got some struggling franchises, but it's slowly but steadily getting the $$$ in.

At the end of the day,partner promotions are a lagging indicator of the economy, i.e. when the economy is booming, partner promotions increase the next year, and vice-versa. It's a tough tough road to become partner. Being good at audit does not cut it. The big 4 are for-profit Firms, so if an individual can make it rain, the odds of him becoming partner are significantly higher than the einsteins of the world.


Anonymous said…
May I ask what country/region/continent you are based in?

Awesome blog!! Definitely shows a different side to auditing for a lowly student!
Anonymous said…
You mentioned that Sr. Mgs. can't get a Controller gig due to lack of private experience. If that's the case, when's the best time to get out? Manager? Senior III?

Popular posts from this blog

career progression

"What can you tell me about the different possible tracks a person would take at the Big 4 in regards to tax vs. audit? Is there a difference in career progression among the two specialties? How about career potential? Workload?"

Loaded question. In terms of career potential, they're both pretty potent. Audit leads you to controller/accounting manager/ VP - accounting positions at companies if you choose to quit. Tax can lead to tax manager positions at various companies/ help them minimize taxes and exploit tax loopholes. It's a pretty important position in many companies...I'm not an expert on tax careers though, so you might want to ask somebody in a tax related position.
In terms of career progression, it's the same as audit...start off as a staff associate...move to senior..manager..snr mgr..partner.
In terms of workload, my friends in the tax department seem to work two busy the fall and in the spring. So I think they work more than i…


As a big four employee, lately, I've been hearing a lot about "boomerang" employees. Those who, for some reason or another, decide that leaving work when the sun is still out is not for them and alas, return back to the firm. Yes, the grass is not always greener on the other side, however, is this trending upward or about the same as it always has been? I think, also, that the firms really do a good job in highlighting those that do choose to return to make it appear more common than reality. Can you please speak about how you've seen the trend of "boomerangs" amongst the big 4? 

Good question. A boomerang, as the commenter pointed, is one who quits a big 4 Firm and then decides to return (or boomerang) back to the Firm after getting a taste of work life in the non-public accounting world.
I have seen a few return this past summer, but didn't really notice a trend until you mentioned it. It's definitely been higher than past years, but not enough to s…

auditing vs consulting

I was wondering if you could break down the career opportunities in auditing and consulting (in a big 4). I know that consulting pays more in a big 4 and has more interesting work, but it seems that auditing has extremely good exit opportunities (Financial controller, CFO etc). Any thoughts on which is better in the long run?

Well there's different consulting services offered by public accounting companies - the most popular being IT consulting and risk consulting. There are also other consulting services offered, but these two hire the most. Do they pay more? Yes, but not by much. Not enough for you to say: Shoot, the $$ is a huge reason for me to move over. Is the work more interesting than audit? Yes. You're actually looking over a company's processes and telling them what to do instead of what not to do (audit). Everyone I know who's made the switch likes it waay better than audit.
In the long run though, choosing audit vs consulting really depends on what you want t…