Making Partner: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Having kicked off the Raines Partner Series with insights on why the Partner Track may (or may not) be right for you (“3 Questions to Consider Before Making Partner”), we now turn our attention to the various pros and cons to making Partner. We spoke with several executives to get a better understanding of the various rewards and challenges that accompany the position, highlighting some important factors to consider when stepping into the role.
The Pros of Partnership
1. Breadth of Projects and Experiences:
Dave Rickard, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Revenue Management for US Foods, was excited by the “turbo-charge” the learning environment gets when you make Partner.
Formerly a Partner at Boston Consulting Group, Dave explains, “The learning curve and the breadth of topics were very enjoyable. I was able to skim across a lot of different clients and see a lot of different things. And the global focus was particularly interesting. All of your firm-level activities are no longer regional, they’re all global.”
Gil Krakowsky similarly notes, “I felt like I was absorbed in a broad array of things, many of which were things that really interested me. I felt like I had entrepreneurial control of what I wanted to do, and I felt like I was learning a lot.” Krakowsky made partner at A.T. Kearney and is Vice President, Global Strategy & Business Development for The Gap, Inc.,
2. Increased Seniority & Status:
For Gil, one of the major pros of his Partner role was the opportunity of “being on the top of your profession and being acknowledged for that means something.”
Elaborating on this point, he explains:
“The pace of my career path kept me in the game. There was always the promise of another level of seniority, another bump in compensation, and another set of challenges. I could have more smart people under me filling in the blanks as I engaged with clients and helped innovate and structure solutions to problems.
So as I got closer to the Partner point, I felt like I was absorbed in a broad array of things, many of which were things that really interested me. I felt like I had entrepreneurial control of what I wanted to do, and I felt like I was learning a lot.”
Like Gil, the opportunity for promotion and increased responsibility continually motivated Alison Levy, Group Vice President of Strategy of Ross Stores, Inc. and former Partner at Kurt Salmon, while embarking on the Partner path:
“As I got more senior at each level, I would look at the people above me and knew I could achieve that,” Alison says. “I would ask, ‘What do I need to do to be at the next level or where do you see gaps?’ I would close those gaps, and the promotions would follow. After a few years at the Manager level, I saw a clear path to Partner and that was exciting to me in many ways.”
3. Access to Senior Leadership, at home and in the field:
For Delaney Steele, the Partner role gave her ample opportunity to work with senior decision-makers within and outside of the firm.
Delaney, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Marketing for Ross Stores, Inc. and former Partner at Boston Consulting Group, “loved the increased access I had to senior clients.”
“You get that when you’re a Principal, but it’s of a different nature when you have the Partner title and the Partner position,” Delaney explains. “And I loved the intellectual leadership. I liked continuing to take what I did as a Principal to the next level, and feeling like I was really accountable for the answer.”
Being a Partner also allowed Delaney to get invested with people and projects. “I had a lot more information and a lot more power to help people in their careers,” she recalls.
Cons of Making Partner
…there some things you should keep in the back of your mind….
1. Unpredictable schedule:
For Gil, one of the downsides of the Partner role was the continual “inconsistency and unpredictability of the work and the travel.”
“When you’re a Manager,” he explains “you know you’re going to this client for 3-4 months, 3-4 days per week.”
But, as a Partner at A.T. Kearney, Gil says he often was finding out about last minute travel or schedule changes that he had to manage alongside his regular work commitments.
Like Gil, David admits that his “work-life balance continued to be a challenge” after stepping into the Partner role:
“I certainly never worked less as a Partner, though I did have a little more control over that than I did as a Principal. And there were probably times were there is a degree of control that you give up on the day-to-day work – you’re not the one doing the model, you’re not the one making the presentation. You’re empowering your teams to get it all done, but ultimately you’re not in control. That’s a big change from when you were a Principal and the buck stopped with you and you wrote the final deck. So that is a mindset shift that takes some getting used to.”
2. Having to Compete with Partners instead of being Part of Projects:
The transition from Principal to Partner is notable, too, because you go from being called in to help partners to having to compete with those partners to keep your business.
“When you’re a Principal the phone rings all the time,” Gil says. “All of the Partners want you to help make their business pursuits and projects successful.”
But, when you become Partner, “the phone rings less.”
“You’re someone who potentially shares the credit if you’re brought in, and you’re certainly someone who burns through budget if you start showing up on the ground every day,” Gil explains. “There are many people who continue to see you as a collaborator, but there are some others who now see you as a bit of a threat.”
3. Emphasis on Sales:
When you become partner, Delaney Steele, Senior Vice President, Strategy & Marketing for Ross Stores, Inc. explains: “The pressure is absolutely enormous to bring in revenue and build-out clients.”
Because of that, there is a major transition to an emphasis on sales, which she said is “the single biggest different in the role between Principal and Partner.”
“Unless you’re someone who really likes to be in what is basically a sales-oriented role, it may not be a role that you like,” Delaney says. “I did not like it as much as I thought I would, because I really like content and problem-solving, but I did not like having to sell work.”
Senior Vice President of Strategy & Corporate Development for DocuSign, Dean Neese, agreed that “at the Partner level you are selling business as well.”
Because of this additional dimension to the Partner role, he says, “Early on you either got it or you didn’t, but later it’s really about making the connections and relating to people. For making Partner, I think that the transition has been a hiccup for most folks.”
Beyond weighing the costs and benefits of the Partner role, consider this final tip from Gil on determining whether the Partner path could be right for you:
“My strong recommendation for any Principal would be that very early in your Principal career, you should conduct that assessment and decide where you want to be in the near future, and what makes sense for you both professionally and personally.”
With these pros and cons in mind, we hope that assessment just became a little easier.