Partner, Shmartner ...... what's the diff ?

What does being a “Partner” mean to you ?  Is it status, money, autonomy, control, professional recognition?  Are you content with being salaried or do you want or aspire for equity? Should you pay for Goodwill or only consider "naked-in-naked-out" models?

And what does being in a “Partnership” with other “Partners” mean to you?  Do you want to be in a collegiate, harmonious, dare I say caring (yes I'm told they are out there) Partnership?  Or a more siloed, autonomous business unit style Partnership based more around the “eat what you kill” concept with possibly higher profit margins?

It is the case that these phrases “Partner” and “Partnership” mean very different things to different people and in different firms in this town. One long-time equity Partner recently said to me “ I’m glad that I am at this stage of my career and not starting out in this Partnership because it’s toxic.  The culture has changed, it’s not what it used to be, they’d eat me if they thought it would help get my clients”

A (Salaried) Partner recently told me of a Partner’s meeting where the long term equity Managing Partner declared at a Partner’s meeting “This is NOT a democracy”.  

Almost every day I am discussing this very issue with Brisbane Partners.  There are some intriguing Partnerships out there. And the current challenging market conditions impacting upon firm profits are very much testing the true fabric of many Partnerships in town right now.

That’s why it's imperative that any current or aspiring Partner considering a lateral career move be very clear with themselves about what hard and soft criteria they really value when it comes to being a Partner in a Partnership. Some questions to ponder:

  • How well do my clients rate the firm performance vs competitors?

  • Do I have confidence in the firm leadership and strategy?

  • Are they a good cultural fit?

  • How is their brand strength amongst my clients (is there a perception gap)?

  • What are the synergies between their key clients and mine ?

  • Is their fee/pricing model acceptable to my clients?

  • How much control do I want/need over type of client, pricing of services, marketing spend, team staffing, cross-referrals ?

  • Are they profitable? What are the numbers ?

  • What are the Partner performance measures - ie: what do I need to do in the firm to earn (for example) $600,000 ?

All Partnerships are not the same. And different Partners value different things at different stages of their career and life.