How to become partner
The path from entry-level accounting position to fully fledged partner in a firm involves much more than good luck, or even the passage of time.
According to recruitment specialist Diana Low, apart from technical competence, to succeed in being a partner today requires a well-rounded leader who can manage teams and relationships both internally and externally.
‘The world has evolved and firms want to work with partners who have a strong understanding of their needs, as well as the capability to provide the right advice and guidance to clients and partners to drive their business growth,’ explains Low, senior partner, Asia at Page Executive.
Asia Pacific calling
For professionals aspiring to that position, she adds, Asia Pacific is a good place to be. ‘As the economic climate continues to be volatile, firms are in need of quality partners to ensure they can produce quality work,’ says Low.
Partnership positions for suitably qualified candidates do not just exist in the accounting sector across the region but are also in high demand within consultative areas such as transformation, governance and process improvement, she adds.
‘As the economy is growing in emerging markets, many firms are in expansion mode exploring those new opportunities, too.’
In addition to solid technical expertise, firms are looking for accounting partners who have a good head for business and the ability to build strong relationships, as well as strong communication and leadership skills – all attributes that can be learned and developed with the right mentorship.
‘While one has to be a technical expert in a subject, it is also important to have the right attitude and attributes to succeed,’ Low continues. ‘The entrepreneurial acumen and ability to have a strong professional network is also key.’
From the day Eddie Ko FCCA started his career as an audit trainee in Kuala Lumpur, the role of partner or practice owner was always in his sights, and achieving his ACCA Qualification was the first stepping stone. Next, he joined a multinational corporation to develop broader skillsets in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, strategy planning and shared services.
‘Looking back now, I feel that it was the right decision as the things I have learned during those years have helped me progress towards my goal,’ he says.
After migrating to Perth, Australia, Ko established Mi-Consultants. To grow the practice at a quicker pace, the next step was to buy the client books of a tax agent practice.
‘I decided to seek out a partner to explore this opportunity,’ he says. The new partner would fund part of the acquisition costs while contributing expertise and experience to the practice.
From there, the practice expanded to a wider scope of services, including accounting and bookkeeping, tax and business advisory, corporate finance and advisory. It also provides international business matchmaking services between Australia and the South-East Asia and East Asia regions.
Ko has found that stepping up to the role of partner (or business owner) has advantages in terms of flexibility of working hours and other on-the-job perks not usually enjoyed by an employee. But in that position, continuing to generate income must always be front of mind.
Build a relationship
‘It is an achievable goal for everyone with the right mindset, but you can be one step ahead by building a network of people around you that are helpful and supportive,’ Ko says.
Cultural fit is also important for any partner cohort, he adds. Before embarking on an appointment, both sides of the potential partnership should get to know each other and build a business relationship, Ko says.
‘A successful practice will be led by partners with an open mind and abundance of wisdom towards all aspects of the business, so everyone can benefit at the end of the day.’
For Belle Foong FCCA, audit partner at CASA Alliances in Singapore, her career path developed ‘quite naturally’, she says.
‘My first job was as an audit junior in an SMP in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after which I decided to move on as an audit senior in Singapore,’ she explains. ‘I enjoyed audit. It is challenging work but every time I resolved a problem it increased my self-confidence.’
It was serendipitous that Foong’s colleague at the time – Steven Tan FCCA – was starting his own practice and invited her to join him as audit partner.
‘I am grateful to Steven as he built CASA Alliances from zero and I’ve enjoyed the fruits of his entrepreneurial labour,’ she says.
As a partner, the job scope is ‘totally different’ to that of an auditor, whose remit is merely compliance. ‘I need to be constantly mindful of improving the efficiency and competency of our colleagues, to monitor their work, manage client expectations, be involved in marketing strategy, build networks and so on,’ she says. ‘It is a great chance for me to apply my professional, management and communication skills.’
The role of partner will challenge, but also reward, says Foong, who encourages aspirants to go for it: ‘I have learned, through my own professional journey, that today’s tears water tomorrow’s gardens.’
Author: Peta Tomlinson, journalist
This article was first published in AB magazine January 2022