On Becoming a Big 4 Audit Partner

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This was left as a comment to an article here, but I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle. It gives good insight on becoming a partner at a Big Four firm.

I joined PwC as a director, with explicit expectations that I’d have a leadership role building a new consulting practice. Along with that, I was told I could make a run at partner if my sales numbers were good. Even when the leadership role and the new practice never materialized, I had great numbers and terrific reviews.

After over a year of solid performance and high praise, I found out only by chance that the partnership isn’t an option for me because of my age. Of course this came as a shock. When I asked about my only other option for advancement, the Managing Director role, a partner told me it has similar revenue targets as the partnership but with greater risks. Add to this the MD’s lack of authority and the general perception that MD’s are either old or incapable, and the position seems like a barely adequate consolation prize.

Sadly, apart from a direct admission to partnership, there’s no really compelling reason for anyone over forty-five to join the big 4. The benefits are certainly good, but if you’re joining as a director, the pay will probably seem average or a bit low. Most importantly for those with families, the long hours and hard work is a road to nowhere.

This partnership arrangement seems uniquely suited to the traditional audit/tax environment (circa 1900, when people died at 60), where growth is limited by a finite number of clients and it’s imperative to create advancement opportunities for younger partners. However, it seems out of touch in broader consulting and professional services industries, where market potential is only limited by the value of services offered.

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