fully updated and expanded, second edition
by marc rosenberg, cpa
based on more than 20 years of analyzing and implementing partner acquisition strategies.
this monograph guides you through all the issues, considerations, procedures, benchmarks, and details.
for bringing in new partners at firms of all sizes.
to ensure that adding partners is the right step for the firm.
and that it’s done right.
add the bonus toolkit:
– high-impact pdfs andcustomizable word.doc practice aids.
bringing in a new partner: thresholds and core competencies
basic role and expectations of partners
what partners are – and are not – entitled to
the new partner’s job description
path to partner milestones checklist
partner evaluation and impact form
links to download your pdf will appear on the order confirmation screen after purchase and in your email receipt from firstname.lastname@example.org.
*rosenberg pdfs are read-only – no printing, markup, reproduction, or further distribution. downloadable to five personal devices.
instant download with your order (zip file)
this toolkit is designed to help you integrate best practices from “how to bring in new partners: a guide for firms and future partners” into your firm more quickly. it consists of two files: (1) printable pdfs and (2) editable word documents. print the pdfs to share during partner meetings and edit the word documents to suit your needs.
file 1 of 2: seven pdfs
- bringing in a new partner: thresholds and core competencies
- basic role and expectations of partners
- what partners are and are not entitled to
- the 4 most important metrics used to manage cpa firm profits
- benchmarking norms for cpa firms
- new partner buy-in common practices
- equity vs. non-equity partners
file 2 of 2: five word docs
- the new partner’s job description
- path to partner milestones checklist word doc
- questions prospective partners should ask the firm
- questions firms should ask prospective partners
- partner evaluation and impact form
“rosenberg’s book is great. i will share it with my partners… a good tool in helping to educate some of the up-and-coming managers on what we are looking for in future partners.”
– al kutchins, partner, kutchins, robbins & diamond ltd., chicago, il
eight critical questions.
as baby boomer partners approach retirement age, they are naturally focusing on who can take their place and eventually write their retirement checks.
this monograph answers the key questions:
what are best practices in bringing in new partners?
how is the buy-in structured?
how do firms develop staff into partners, and
when are they ready?
should we have non-equity partners?
how do new partners get compensated?
what should the buy-in amount be?
how does all this work?
80% of firms never make it to the second generation.
makeyoursamong the 20% that do.
accounting firms worldwide are dealing with an enormously difficult challenge today—one that has topped every firm’s list of critical issues since the turn of the century and will continue to be a high priority for years to come. the vast majority of firms struggle with “it.”
failure to solve “it” causes hundreds of firms to merge out of existence every year.
the “it,” of course, is succession planning, with difficulties rooted in a perfect storm of causes:
- the huge number of baby boomer partners nearing or reaching retirement age, coupled with…
- an acute shortage of younger people with the desire and the skills to succeed them, accompanied by…
- cpa firms’ historical weakness at retaining staff and developing them into leaders and future partners. evidence of this is the fact that 80% of first-generation firms never make it to the second.
who needs this handbook:
1 – cpa firmsseeking guidance on how to develop staff into partner candidates who eventually are promoted to partner. this is from two perspectives:
- structuring the financial and operating aspects of making someone a partner. we address the buy-in, ownership percentage, capital, voting, new partner compensation, duties of the new partner, equity vs. non-equity partners, partner buyout, and partnership agreement issues.
- what firms should be doing to interest their staff in becoming partners and to develop them into partner candidates.
2 – staff at cpa firmswho are interested in a career in public accounting and therefore want to know what they need to do to become partners. this includes the skills they need to master in order to qualify for partner and how the process of buying into equity ownership at a firm should work.
your questions answered
what is a partner these days?
should we have non-equity partners?
how do firms develop staff into partners?
what do you get for the buy-in?
when are they ready?
how do new partners get compensated?
what should their buy-in be?
what are the 22 main provisions of a partner buyout plan?
what should their ownership percentage be?
how should voting work?
how does capital get determined?
what about non-solicitation agreements?
there’sno delayingthe inevitable.
by kristen rampe, cpa
from the foreword
succession planningeventually rises to the top of every partner’s to-do list. for some, the process starts early. for others, it’s the last thing they want to think about. so it’s put off until there’s almost no time left. in both cases, the need to bring new talent into the ownership ranks is critical for a cpa firm to remain independent.
sole practitioners bringing in a partneroften have no idea where to start. multipartner firms that haven’t admitted a new partner in a decade or more probably know that the way they did it last time won’t work this time.
in 2009, marc wrote his first book about bringing in new partners at public accounting firms. the result was a short 58-page guide that assisted over 1,500 firms in their quest to admit owners in a way that worked for the practice and the individuals.
today, marc uses his latest insights to comprehensively address every issue in adding owners to your firm in this newly expanded book,how to bring in new partners: a guide for firms and future partners.
in my work with marc, i have seen firsthand his ability to guide firms to making decisions that have a positive impact on their long-term success.
this book will guide you as if marc were by your side.
stopgrasping at straws.
andstartre-engineering your firm.
by marc rosenberg, cpa
adapted from “how to bring in new partners”
succession planning challenges are causing firms to scrutinize more than ever before their methodology for bringing in new partners. from developing staff into leaders and partners to revising financial models for new partner buy-ins and buyouts for retiring partners to transitioning clients to successor partners, these long-neglected and somewhat dysfunctional issues are increasingly being brought to the front burner.
compounding the challenge of bringing in new partners is the simple fact that few firms haverecentexperience in gtaking on a new partner.
indeed, there are thousands of firms that have never madeanyonea new partner. they are grasping at straws trying to figure out a coherent plan for bringing in new partners that’s a win-win for both the existing partners and the new ones.
undoing firms’ archaic practices
if any of the characterizations below sound familiar, you need to re-engineer your approach to bringing in new partners:
1 – no handholding.
“older” partners often feel they earned their partnerships the old-fashioned way, through hard work and perseverance, without anyone “holding their hand.” they expect nothing less from today’s young people.
partners’ attitudes all too often seem like this: “we want to wait until the staff show us that they have the right stuff. staff must come to usfirstandtellus they want to be a partner. then and only then will we step in and show them the way.”
many of today’s older partners have a tough time accepting that this attitude has shifted in the past 10 to 20 years. hard work, ambition, and perseverance are still important. but today, it’s also important to show young people the way by mentoring them andproactivelyhelping them develop, all of which must begin years before a staff member is ready to be a partner.
2 – lack of formalized criteria for making partners.
one practice that greatly hinders leadership development is firms’ reluctance to formalize and communicate to their staff written criteria for making partners.
how can staff be expected to aspire to become partners if they don’t know what ittakesto become a partner and what itmeansto be a partner?
3 – widely varying criteria for making partners.
somewhat related to the point above, firms today have a vast range of criteria for making partners, especially in the area of bringing in business. for example, some firms believe that in order to be a partner, a person has to be an accomplished business-getter; these firms will rarely promote anyone to partner without this attribute. on the other hand, some firms have little or no requirements to bring in business to qualify for a partnership. there is no consensus on this in the cpa firm industry, especially at firms under $15m in revenue.
4 – inconsistencies in the system.
many firms make new partners so infrequently that every time they bring in a new owner they change the system for buying into the firm. this makes for inconsistent and often incomprehensible methods for bringing in new partners.
5 – prohibitive new partner buy-ins.
years ago, buy-ins were huge: several hundred thousand dollars. today’s new partners have neither the financial resources nor the willingness to pay these astronomical sums.
today, well over 90% of firms—of all sizes—establish a new partner buy-in that is smaller and more affordable than in the past.
6 – reluctance to use the non-equity partner position.
in years past, for the most part, there was only one class of partner: an equity partner. many firms made the mistake of promoting directly to equity partner staff who lacked important talents and experience, primarily in business development and leadership skills, to function as business owners.
today, cpa firms are making increasing use of a second tier of partner, thenon-equitypartner.
as a result, they have raised the bar for what it takes to become an equity partner.
with key performance indicators and critical success factors
1 – introduction
- how to bring in new partners: one of the hottest issues at cpa firms today
- undoing firms’ archaic practices
- where leadership development starts
- psst! cpas are keeping the wrong secrets
- who this handbook is for
2 – why people are promoted to partner
- why firms would want to make someone a partner
- why staffshouldwant to become partners
- why somedon’twant to be a partner
- why you shouldrejectsomeone to be a partner
- partners: sell your staff on what a great job you have!
3 – what is a partner?
- bringing in new partners: thresholds and core competencies
- basic role and expectations of partners
- the realities of being a partner
- what partners are – and are not – entitled to
- how new partner duties change from manager duties
4 – the path to partner
- skills staff need to make partner: in general
- skills staff need to make partner: business development
- skills staff need to make partner: being a good boss
- measuring staff performance on the path to partner
- how firms create a path to partner
- 12 questions to ask of staff
- what it takes to advance
- how long should it take to make partner?
- shorten the path to partner
- path to partner milestones checklist
5 – expectations of new partners: to help staff learn and grow
- mentoring to help staff succeed and advance
- performance feedback
- leadership development
- make the staff’s work challengingtraining
- recognizing and rewarding staff
- common ways cpa firms recognize their staff
6 – a crash course in the business of public accounting
- services provided by cpa firms
- primary services provided by cpa firms
- common consulting services and industry practice areas
- common position titles at cpa firms
- the u.s. cpa firm market
- u.s. cpa firm market demographics
- the economic structure of a cpa firm
- why should employees care how the firm makes money?
- key definitions
- the four most important metrics used to manage profits
- a typical cpa firm income statement
- examples of how various actions impact a cpa firm’s profits
- benchmarking norms for cpa firms
7 – how cpa firms are managed
- two kinds of firms
- overarching philosophies for managing a cpa firm
- what needs to be managed?
- 25 best practices of the most successful firms
8 – key concepts in structuring a new partner buy-in
- two major benefits of becoming a partner
- the best investment new partners will ever make
- create written criteria for making partner
- consider the non-equity partner role first
- avoid overemphasizing ownership percentage
- new partner buy-in: key concepts
9 – how to structure the new partner buy-in
- structuring a new partner buy-in
- new partner buy-in common practices
- impact of ownership percentage on partner issues
- alternative new partner buy-in methods
10 – partner compensation
- best practices and key concepts
- seven systems used to allocate partner income
- what promotion raise should new partners receive?
11 – partner retirement/buyout
- no, it’s not a ponzi scheme
- the buyout plan: three big issues to decide
- goodwill valuation rates
- buyout best practices and key concepts
- six systems used to determine partners’ goodwill payments
- the two best systemsthe aav method illustrated
- partner buyout plans: 28 main provisions
12 – the cpa firm partner agreement: what firms should address and
- what partner candidates should know before they sign
- what is a partner agreement?
- critical provisions in a cpa firm partner agreement
- reasons for adding new equity partners
- reasons for adding new non-equity partners
13 – what prospective partners should ask their firm, what the firm should ask prospective partners
- questions prospective partners should ask their firm
- questions a cpa firm should ask prospective partners
14 – partner evaluations
- why firms do performance evaluations of partners
- five types of partner evaluations
- partner self-evaluation and impact form
15 – final pearls of wisdom
- “partner seniors”
- new partners need to be impact players
- announcing and celebrating a new partner
why firms arecompelledto add new partners:
nine unstoppable forces.
1 – new partners deserve the promotion to such a great extent that the firm can’t afford not to award it.
these are managers who have consistently demonstrated their ability to significantly increase the firm’s revenue growth, profitability, and overall success, both currently and especially in the future. the firm needs to recognize these talents by admitting such managers to the ownership group, thus sharing profits and the firm’s value with them. if the firm fails to recognize and reward partner candidates, they will eventually leave and find someplace else that appreciates their value. the firm’s success and performance would be substantially hurt if the firm lost this person.
2 – growth demands expansion of the partner ranks.
the firm’s growth requires an increase in the number of partners it has. for example, a firm may decide that it wishes to maintain an average revenue per partner of $1.5m. currently, the firm has eight partners and revenue of $12 million. the firm may need to approach $13.5m before it feels justified in adding a ninth partner.
however, the firm also reasons that there is a limit to the size of client base that a partner can manage while providing world-class service. so, many firms limit the size of each partner’s client base. they need to bring in new partners to keep the base from growing too high.
3 – the firm must replace a retiring partner.
a partner with a healthy client base retires and the other partners are too busy to absorb the retiree’s clients. the firm is fortunate to have a manager on board with the skills to manage the retiree’s clients. also, the manager may already have solid work experience with many of the retiree’s clients. in cases such as these, partners often promote the manager to partner.
4 – a partner offer rewards a long-time manager with solid client service and technical skills.
the person is loyal and hard-working and has earned credibility with partners and staff. he or she may not have all the leadership and business development skills that the firm prefers its partners to have, but the partners nonetheless feel the person deserves the partner promotion. in many instances, the partners would have heartburn if the person left due to being passed over for promotion. in these cases, the partner promotion has been earned and is a staff retention tactic.
5 – people are needed to write the partners’ retirement checks.
80% of all first-generation firms never make it to the second because of weak succession planning, including an insufficient number of younger partners to buy out the existing partners. by promoting a competent, loyal, skilled, hard-working manager to partner, the firm acquires one more person to share in the partner buyout burden.
6 – partner promotions send a signal to the staff.
when the staff sees people promoted to partner periodically, it sends a message that if they work hard and smart to acquire partner-level skills and experience, their efforts may eventually be recognized and rewarded with ownership. caveat: firms should never promote people who lack these partner-level skills to partner simply to send a message.
7 – it provides a spark to the partner group.
some firms evolve over a long time without making any new partners. the result is an aging partner group that lacks energy and innovation and may be somewhat stagnant. injecting deserving, skilled young people into the partner ranks may be just the shot in the arm the firm needs.
8 – the firm needs technical partners.
in an ideal world, a major criterion for promotion to partner is a track record of bringing in business. this is the most difficult trait for aspiring staff to acquire. some firms find it a useful practice to periodically promote non-business-getting staff to partner because the firm needs technical partners to function at a very high level, supporting the other partners who are adept at business development. the person promoted must have demonstrated other valuable skills, such as client handling, loyalty, a strong work ethic, and an ability to train staff.
firms usually find that there is a limit to the number of technical partners they can afford.
9 – it’s part of a merger strategy.
when buyers merge in smaller firms with partners who are “younger” (i.e., not close to retirement) but possess skills similar to those of the buyer’s existing partners and manage sizable client bases, the only way the seller’s partners will agree to the merger is if they become partners in the buyer’s firm.
why staff shouldwantto become partners:
nine good motivators.
partners have it great. if a staff person really gets a proper, thorough understanding of why it’s fantastic to become a partner in a cpa firm, there are almost no reasons fornotwanting to be a partner.
(well, there are a few, but we’ll discuss them another time.)
1 – the money.
sorry, i probably shouldn’t have led with this one. i struggled with where to put it. if i put it first, you may think i’m saying that money is everything, but i certainly don’t feel that way. if i put it last, some might think it’s the least important, but that is not the case either. if i bury it in the middle, it might not get your attention.
according to the latest data, the income of equity partners in cpa firms under $20 million in revenue (99% of all multi-partner firms) averages $300,000 to $500,000, depending on their size and location. this number is substantially higher for firms larger than $20 million. this is more money than 95% or more of all people in north america earn and is almost always substantially higher than their parents earned. no question: the money is wonderful.
2 – ownership.
from two points of view:
- first, as a partner,you will be an owner in a business (for 99% of you, it will be asmallbusiness) that is almost guaranteed to increase in value over time. for new partners, this increase could be three to ten times its original value.
- second, as an owner of a small business, you will be an entrepreneur. as such, you will have virtually unlimited freedom and flexibility to run your part of the firm and decide how you spend your time.
3 – challenging, interesting work.
the work performed by partners is much more sophisticated and challenging than staff-level work. the focus of partner work shifts to solving people’s problems, planning, and relationships, as opposed to the more technical work of staff. summary: partner work is cool!
4 – relationships with your clients.
it’s been well-documented in numerous psychological studies that the happiest people are those who have healthy relationships with other people. relationships improve the quality of their lives and bring them joy. when you are a partner, the major relationships in your life, besides your family and friends, are the clients you work with. partners love their clients and clients love them back. life doesn’t get much better than that.
5 – virtually all partners manage a sizable client base.
this could range from several hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars. most partners find this high level of responsibility very satisfying. it’s frustrating at times. stressful at times. but it’s enormously satisfying to be an owner in a cpa firm with the responsibility for acquiring, retaining and growing a client base.
6 – prestige.
i’ve got to tread carefully on this one because it touches a little on ego and vanity. but who can blame someone for feeling great about the prestige that comes with becoming a partner in a highly reputable, successful cpa firm in one’s community? prestige will never be no. 1 on this list, but most newly promoted partners would admit (at least to themselves) how good the ego boost feels when they become a partner.
many partners have told me that it became easier to bring in business when they were able to tell people they were a partner in such and such a firm. it’s the classic chicken or the egg argument.
- were they more successful at business development because of their maturity and self-confidence, and the partner promotion was merely the icing on the cake?
- or was the development of these traits possible only once the person was promoted to partner?
this is one of those questions that have no answer.
7 – staff to delegate to.
certainly, people who are promoted to partner were delegating work to staff before their promotion. but when someone becomes a partner, the amount of work delegated to staff increases considerably.
managers average about 1,400 billable hours a year, while equity partners are around 1,100, lower at bigger firms, according to our research. that’s a 300-hour gap, a 21% difference. it’s kind of nice to have an army of people at your beck and call.
8 – tenure.
this one is a bit tongue-in-cheek. nowhere is it written in firms’ partner agreements that partners can never be fired. but as a practical matter, unless someone commits egregious acts, there is very little chance of being terminated. cpa firms are very lax at holding partners accountable for their performance or behavior.
9 – lack of accountability.
pardon the sarcasm, but it would be an understatement to say that there is very little partner accountability at the vast majority of cpa firms. in #2 i wrote that partners have tremendous flexibility in how they work. probably too much. if you are a manager asking yourself: “what’s so good about being a partner?” does a low amount of accountability appeal to you?
why someone mightnotwant to be a partner:
four top reasons.
there are two sides to every discussion. the previous section may have made it seem as if you’d have to be a foolnotto want to be a partner. but being a partner isn’t for everybody. the reasons listed below exclude issues not germane to this discussion, such as a desire to change careers, opportunities to join one’s family business or boredom with accounting.
1 – long hours.
at most firms, when the staff leave, the partners are still working. some feel it sends a negative message to the staff because it implies that there is an expectation for partners to work long hours and therefore make it difficult to enjoy a healthy work-life balance. rosenberg map survey metrics corroborate this: partners average around 2,410 total work hours but the staff average is 2,280, a difference of 130 overtime hours.
counter to this: i defy anyone to find a highly successful executive in any organization, regardless of the compensation, who doesn’t put in extra time. if your goal is to be a 9-to-5er, then you shouldn’t be a cpa firm partner.
2 – liability exposure.
when you are an owner of a business, you are liable for legal issues. for cpa firms, this is mainly malpractice.
counter to this: as a practical matter, in my 20 years of experience, i’ve seen an extremely small percentage of firms have significant legal problems. when they do, it’s rarely catastrophic.
3 – partner buyouts.
almost all cpa firms have a substantial unrecorded liability for future partner buyouts. younger partners often have concerns about the affordability of those payments, especially if there is legitimate concern about the firm staying in business when key partners retire.
counter to this: the vast majority of cpa firms have partner buyout plans that work very successfully, without putting undue financial stress on the partners. in fact, buying out older partners will most likely be the best investment a partner ever makes.
another counter: if the buyout plan looks unaffordable, the partners can always pursue an upward merger to resolve this problem.
no question. when you are a hard-driving senior officer of a dynamic, profitable company, there is stress. meeting deadlines. handling clients’ unreasonable demands. hiring and training staff that turn over at a high rate. for an owner, stress is undeniable.
counter to this: can you show me anyone who is a highly successful professional, especially a business owner, who is free of stress? here’s a lesson in psychology, taught to me by my psychologist wife, dr. ellen rosenberg. there are two kinds of stress: good stress and bad stress. good stress, though it doesn’t always feel good, drives you to achieve better things, makes you creative and stronger. bad stress is not good for your health. examples are a tragic death of a family member or a natural disaster. most of the stresses of being a partner in a cpa firm are good stresses.
4 – it takes a long time to make partner.
it takes 10 or more years to make partner at two-thirds of all firms. most new partners are 32 to 40 years of age. that means they will work 11 to 18 years before making partner.
counter to this: there is none, other than the old saying that patience is a virtue. i personally think firms take too long to promote staff to partner, so i see why some staff are unwilling to wait.
so staff, if you like your firm, you like your work and you want to have a successful, lucrative professional career, these obstacles should not stop you from pursuing a partnership.
who shouldnotbe a partner:
five red flags.
many firms make the mistake of admitting to the partnership someone who will not be a strong contributing member of the group. they miss the signs that this person will be a bad fit.
the following red flags may signal a potential future challenge in the partnership.
consider whether your candidate:
1 – lacks skills your firmneeds todayto be successful.
if you are in dire need of a rainmaker, you probably don’t have room for another partner who has no skills or interest in bringing in business. this can be problematic without a separate solution (e.g. hiring someone for business development). the same goes for technical, client service, and team development skillsets.
2 – has difficulty meeting expectations, makes promises, and doesn’t deliver.
most firm members have good intentions, but when it comes to partner candidates, individuals need to meet their commitments reliably.
3 – is difficult to work with.
while not everyone needs to be a star mentor that staff are clamoring to learn from, admitting a new partner that no one wants to work with will damage your firm’s ability to retain employees and run an efficient practice.
4 – has financial troubles, substance abuse, or similar undesirable traits.
just like in marriage, don’t plan on fixing somebody once you’re in the relationship.
5 – doesn’t support group decisions or firm policies.
they might say yes in the meeting (or not), but then turn their backs and tell staff how they think an initiative is a bad idea. they don’t uphold the partnership’s position. a classic example: resisting technology changes and sticking with the old way, including requiring less experienced team members to comply.
how do you screen out these potential partners, especially if they’ve been hearing that after a certain number of years they’ll likely be able to make partner?
start by getting very clear as an existing partner group on what your expectations are of the role of a partner.
- is it ok for a partner not to mentor?
- not to bring in new business?
- not to take on leadership initiatives at the firm?
any of these, maybe even all, could be fine at your firm (if, say, you’re in need of a strong qc partner).
but if it’s not, don’t let someone in who can’t step up to the plate. you’ll hold it against them, creating an unhealthy and unproductive dynamic.
partners:sell your staffon what a great job you have!
talk to your young staff about why being a cpa firm partner is an awesome career. but don’t stop there.
describe the benefits of being a staff person atyourfirm:
- the interesting, challenging work they’ll be assigned,
- the excellent compensation potential and advancement opportunities,
- their own personal baptism to the world of business.
then watch what happens.
- give your stars access to cutting-edge technology.
- provide constant training and feedback and flexible work options, especially for people who want to combine careers with raising a family.
- build team spirit and go beyond it to a team orientation to servicing clients.
make your staff understand how their work contributes to the overall success of the firm, and more than that, why they shouldcare.
a star will be born!
about the author
marc rosenberg, cpa
management consultant to the cpa profession
marc rosenberg is a nationally known consultant, author, and speaker on cpa firm management, strategy, and partner issues. president of his own chicago-based consulting firm, the rosenberg associates, he is the founder of the most authoritative annual survey of mid-sized cpa firm performance statistics in the country, the rosenberg survey. he has consulted with more than 1000 firms throughout his decades-long consulting career.
annually recognized as one of the top 100 most influential people and among the nation’s leading practice consultants, rosenberg regularly contributes to leading industry publications, including 卡塔尔世界杯常规比赛时间, where his columns appear weekly.
he is best known as the author of his acclaimed practice management series — a compilation of knowledge and experience amassed throughout his consulting career on key topics pertinent to cpa practice management.
rosenberg is a graduate of the university of illinois.
how to bring in new partners: the guide for firms and future partners
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