Every other month on AccountingTomorrow.com, ConvergenceCoaching LLC explores a hot topic from the perspective of two people from the same firm who represent different generations.

For the inaugural column, we tapped Fort Worth, Texas-based Hartman, Leito & Bolt (www.hlbllp.com) and asked Michael Woodruff, CPA, a Generation X partner born in 1972, and Jim Leito, CPA, a Baby Boomer founding partner born in 1956, to respond to the following question:

"In CPA firms, is 'climbing the ladder to partner' still a relevant paradigm? Should becoming partner still be the end goal?"

LEITO'S BABY BOOMER VIEWPOINT:

I do not think that the young professionals today perceive becoming a partner in a CPA firm in its current form or definition as an attainable goal. I feel that they are, instead, seeking to find better balance between their personal life and professional life than their predecessors, and that this will affect their desire to "climb" to partner. I do believe they are willing to work the long hours for short periods of time to complete a task, but I do not think they want to sustain the long hours that many in my generation had to in order to make it to partner, because our professional service economic model requires it. They look at the partners who come in early or stay late day after day and decide that is not what they want for their life.

I believe that younger generations' view of the way that they would structure their work life if they become a partner is different than what they see the Baby Boomers doing. While they may want to achieve financial success, it most likely will be defined differently than the Baby Boomer definition of financial success, and this could affect how many aspire to partnership.

I am interested to see how the economic downturn affects the long-term thinking of those in Generation X and Y. If the downturn continues for several years, many may lose their jobs, and this will be, for many, the first real setback they have experienced in life, and how they react will set their course for success.

If more young people do not aspire to partnership, I wonder how that will affect the number of firms going forward. Partnership requires some sacrifice and risk-taking, and I'm not sure how that will be balanced with the personal needs of the young.

I appreciate the opportunity to work with the young and to keep puzzling on this with them as we continue to grow our firm into the future.

WOODRUFF'S GEN X VIEWPOINT:

I believe there are two answers to this question. The first answer is rooted in the present and the second addresses the future. I'll start with the present.

When I began my career in public accounting, there was no option in my mind but to make partner someday. Public accounting opened many doors for me along the way, and I was given several opportunities to get off the highway and to detour from the path to partner, spending a few years in industry and receiving several offers throughout the years to do other things. ... Ultimately, my admittance as a partner fulfilled my goal of positioning myself in the marketplace as a respected CPA who can provide quality service to my clients, while honing my entrepreneurial spirit. It is that entrepreneurial spirit that helped me and many partners climb the ladder of success.

To say that becoming a partner is the "end goal" is a bit short-sighted. While I believe that it is the pinnacle of a CPA's career in public accounting, it is hardly the end of their career. Most CPA firms have retirement-age requirements that open the door for the new generation of partners. I certainly hope at retirement that I am not finished contributing to the profession. I believe that the partner role provides opportunities that would otherwise not be made available to me.

In the current social environment, the profession has adapted quickly to non-traditional career paths. Employees who want to work flexible schedules, or dedicate significant portions of their time outside of practicing public accounting, are recognized as still providing value to the profession. As a result, there are more instances of senior-level employees with reduced client workloads, or who work specified times during the year. These employees may have no interest in becoming a partner; however, the value that these experienced practitioners provide to firms and their clients on a part-time basis continues to be sought, rather than maintaining a traditional "up or out" mentality, which existed almost exclusively not too long ago.

In summary, the "ladder climb to partner" is relevant to me and to many CPAs today. While I realize that what I will be able to offer the profession in the future will be enhanced by my time as a partner, I also respect and value those who don't see it as the end goal for their careers, and believe those people can contribute meaningfully to firms like ours.

This column is facilitated and edited by Jennifer Wilson, the Baby Boomer co-founder and partner at ConvergenceCoaching LLC, (www.convergencecoaching.com) a leadership and marketing coaching and training and development firm specializing in CPA and IT firms, and Krista Remer, the firm's Gen X consultant. To have your firm considered for a future Accounting Tomorrow column, contact Krista at krista convergencecoaching.com.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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