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Why every partner has to build, balance and nurture two careers in parallel

car race

My transition in Summer 2008 from by then a part-time deal-doing partner to full-time management transpired to be interesting timing - I did not have to personally face my transactional practice falling off a cliff when Lehman collapsed a few months’ later, but instead I became responsible for leading the firm through the global financial crisis.

I was very clear though in my mind at the time that I was embarking on a very different second career in management.

It is only more recently that it occurred to me that this was wrong, and that I had in fact embarked on a very different second career ten years’ previously when I had first been made up as a partner. And that second career, as a partner, was running in parallel, and as an adjunct, to my pre-existing career as a qualified professional.

This was an important realisation, and one I wish had dawned on me sooner because I would have managed myself differently.

Because it seems to me that a reasonable proportion of partners in professional services firms come to define themselves by their status as a partner, as I did. And in the process lose some sight of their professional career and what got them there. As if becoming, and being, a partner is the Holy Grail – which of course it is not, no matter the firm; there are many other ways to have a long, successful and rewarding professional career.

And yet on the other hand it also strikes me that far too many partners in professional firms define themselves by their status as a professional. And in the process do not take advantage of the full opportunity afforded by partnership.

Whereas the big challenge for professional partners is to build and run both our professional and our partnership careers in parallel and in the optimum balance for us.

Because they are actually quite different, but obviously highly inter-dependent, ‘businesses’ and they have to be run as such. And most partners do not fulfil their potential because they focus on one at the expense of the other, and more often than not that will be at the expense of their ‘partnership’ business.

This is probably because our professional work is what we enjoy most, because we are highly trained as professionals, but not as partners, and because we are professionals first, with professional obligations to clients, and therefore business comes second.

But it only struck me several years after becoming a partner that partnership is primarily a huge ongoing opportunity to leverage ourselves in our primary careers as client-facing professionals - and which we have to keep taking every day without fail. Because when we stop taking that opportunity we can be sure that others in the market, internally and externally, will be taking it instead of us.

If I am in the right firm for me and I manage myself well, the professional opportunity being afforded to me as a partner is extraordinary:

- to leverage the firm’s brand to get better clients and better work

- to work alongside and build alliances with great fellow professionals

- to build my personal brand into new and exciting growth areas, and

- to keep learning and growing as a professional.

So being a partner is a huge ongoing opportunity to keep trading up to a better class of professional problem.

But partner careers are getting shorter. We have to make sure we extract the maximum benefit.


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