Art of Accounting: 12 must-haves to be a partner

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What is the right stuff to become a partner? I get asked this many times a month. So does Marc Rosenberg, an author and consultant for many accounting firms, who has developed this list from his extensive meetings with accounting firm partner groups and at retreats. His list has 12 must-have traits that the better firms commonly identify as the right stuff…to become and be a partner. I like the list and Marc gave me permission to share it with you, so enjoy!

1. Build great relationships with clients. So much so that clients are equally comfortable calling or talking to the potential partner rather than the partner in charge of the engagement. This is not limited to sociability. It’s about partner-potentials being able to show clients that they are sharp, engaging, responsive professionals who have the knowledge and experience to truly help solve their problems, and that they add value.

2. Credibility with the staff. Be known as a great trainer, supervisor and delegator; someone the staffs see as being able to help them in their career, not just someone who has a higher title.

3. Ability to mentor staff and help them learn and grow. This is different than No. 2 above, which is how the staff sees the partner-potential. This is about what the partner-potential actually does to develop staff.

4. Good communication skills. Able to be clear and effective in oral (face to face and telephone) and written (emails and texts) communication; the ability to be persuasive with clients, staff, partners and referral sources.

5. High energy. Great attitude about their work and passionate about the firm. Willing to do what it takes to get the job done, while still maintaining a work-life balance. Healthy work ethic.

6. Trustworthy. This is not about stealing money or committing other illegal or unethical acts. Instead, this is about partners feeling they can trust the person’s judgment, that they will not take shortcuts and will not put the firm in danger. And finally, it’s about other partners feeling good about being able to call the partner-potential “my partner.”

7. Team player. Is this person a “me” person or a “we” person? Looks to do what’s good for the firm before doing what’s good for themselves. Helps others — not just “willing” to help others, but actually helping them in areas such as cross-selling, involving others with their clients, or not hoarding billable hours and clients.

8. Be a self-starter. Develop a reputation for reliability and timeliness, as someone who gets things done.

9. Self-confidence. This should be self-explanatory.

10. Leadership. The world is made up of leaders and followers. There are way more followers than leaders. That makes leaders special and that’s important because, to be a partner in a firm, one needs to be special, to stand out from all the rest of the staff. People want to follow leaders.

11. Comfort with practice development. This doesn’t mean a person needs to be a rainmaker. But they truly believe in the adage “you can’t not try” when it comes to developing business. Should have a healthy attitude towards PD and actually devote a meaningful amount of time on a continuous basis to PD practices that are effective (i.e., not taking your best friends out to lunch all the time).

12. Perform work at a high level. This does not mean that to be a partner, one has to be a technical guru. But it does mean that when partners have technically complex, demanding tasks or projects, they are comfortable delegating them to the partner-potential because of the confidence they have in them to perform at a high level. Acid test: For the most part, when the partner-potential submits work to a partner for review, very few changes are required.

This checklist has been adapted from CPA Firm Succession Planning: A Perfect Storm, by Marc Rosenberg, which is a must-read for firms focusing on staying independent. This book addresses how to assess your existing staff, leadership development, MP transition, governance structure needed to remain independent, client transition, the partner buyout plan, and the partner buy-in plan. The book can be purchased from Rosenberg Associates by clicking here.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements.Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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Partnerships Mentoring Client relations Business development Ed Mendlowitz