• Paul Rutherford


Updated: Jun 10

So what does it mean to be a Partner?

At heart, it's belonging and not belonging – the want to be an integral part of a venture and the need for independence, to be on the outside.


Partnerships are most common among professional services – accountants, architects, doctors, dentists, lawyers, management consultants. There are plenty of the legal practices on TV (The Good Wife, Kavanagh QC, Suits,) because the core of their business is conflict, especially if it includes a court scene with high stakes.

Despite global financial crises and Panama Paper tax evasion, spreadsheets are just very dull. Similarly, architectural blueprints, which are as engaging to the unschooled as a colouring book.

Dramatic or otherwise, the professions are attracted to the Partnership model because they enable practitioners to do what they have been trained to do. Argue a case, balance some books or cure the unwell. And earn their income as the direct outcome of applied intelligence.

Past a certain size, a hierarchy of Partners begins to emerge - subgroups looking at different aspects of running their firm (premises, remuneration, expansion into new territories) with a Managing Partner to lead and have final decision - either founder(s) or someone elected to the role.


At The Exetor Group (TEG), I put my hand up twice to become a Partner.

The first time I was told that I wasn't ready. It may have been me, it may have been the development of the firm, the financials, the client base, or clarity between the existing partners as to whether I was needed or a fit. Disappointed, but the founders of the firm handled it in a way to keep the door open.

And the fact that Dominic Barton, former Managing Director of McKinsey, took three attempts to become a Partner.

It doesn’t matter where you are on life’s roller coaster - and what you think you know - there’s always more to learn.


Being a Partner in a firm – local or global - is very attractive for those who want to manage their own careers, not relying on someone else leading you along a path that’s already been defined.

The most impactful way to step up from Associate to Partner is:

  1. Do the work

  2. Fit in with the culture

  3. Be welcomed into Client structures and understand their needs

  4. Bring new work (either from existing clients or 'new-new' - which is dependent on relationships and reputations)

Relationship are the be-all and end-all of any sense of permanence. Relationships with Clients, with Partners, with project colleagues and – especially - with the admin team make work possible, and generates more opportunity.

The biggest attraction of Partnership is genuine ownership, both financial and for the development of the collective direction. It offers the opportunity to contribute ideas and opinions to maintain the health of the venture.

What matters is thinking deeply about each decision and listening deeply to the point of view of others. And being willing to give up personal gain for the greater good.


Partners, as the name implies, share an interpersonal bond. Like a marriage or civil partnership or a sport partnership (think doubles in tennis or a four-ball in golf). In the same way that genuine Directors have legal and financial responsibilities, so do Partners in a practice or firm.

A great Partnership combines personal expertise and a shared objective (the two sides of the coin I mentioned). There are fewer rules than in a corporate setting, and often cliques form around what is important, what is valued and what's in it for ‘me’.

That needs constant attention, and a willingness (aka courage) to bring difficulties and contradictions to the table, and to get them worked through. If they are not, then inevitably there will be loss, potentially a split in the collective. I know Partners who were stalwarts in law firms who suddenly parted company, even though they believed they were doing exactly the right thing for their Clients.

But they didn't align with the values of the others in the Partnership - for good or for bad.

Of the Job Titles I have chased, Partner is the most resonant, the most demanding, and the most rewarding. It isn't about status; it's about balancing individual ambition and joint objectives. Aligning personal growth with collective will.

Being driven enough to do the best work, yet humble enough to acknowledge that your colleagues are brighter and – if you listen – will make you better.

I hope that's reflected in final Part 6.

For Rutherposts direct to you inbox, subscribe *here*

#work #career

36 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All