Beyond the balance sheet

What it's like to be the managing partner - the career ladder

Kathleen Parker 18/9/2014 7 minute read

Kathleen Parker talks about how she rose through the ranks to become the first female managing partner at Wellers.

This summer of 2014 marked an important landmark for Wellers; it had been a year since Kathleen Parker took over as managing partner. It also marked 23 years since she joined the firm. In the first of this two part Q&A she talks about her rise through the ranks, what it is like to be the first female managing partner and the development of the career structure at the firm. 

Did you always have an ambition to be managing partner?

To be honest, no I didn’t. The reason being I was always afraid that taking on this role would prevent me from doing what I love in the form of client work and winning new business. I enjoy being out there and wouldn’t want to be office based all the time dealing with internal issues.

Don’t get me wrong, I love working on the business but not at the exclusion of client work. Since taking on the role we have redefined it through a new job description. The result is that I am very happy as I can continue to do both which really suits my skill set.

How did you become managing partner?

It was a mixture of things. Part of it was age and experience which meant that when the opportunity arose to take over from Neil Beck (Wellers former managing partner); I was perhaps one of the more obvious candidates. There were other partners who were equally qualified but closer to retirement. I think being in the mid to late 40’s age range is a good time to take on this kind of role.

When did you start at Wellers and what was your career path to Managing Partner?

I started as a trainee in the London office in 1991 on my brother’s insistence because I was nearly 26 and had done a Geography degree. Before that I was a housing officer but in my early twenties I packed it in to go travelling. When I returned the economy was in the middle of a recession and Wellers had just opened its new office in London through a merger with a sole practitioner. They were looking for a trainee which ended up being me. I went on to qualify in 1996 but back then there wasn’t quite the structure there is now with official promotions.

Basically I was always Neil’s assistant. When I joined he was helping to run the London office and I was his first trainee. I became his dedicated resource and worked closely with him throughout my career. It meant that taking over from him in the top role was a natural progression. In a sense we created a succession, we just didn’t realise we were doing it!

Has that influenced the career structure and teams we see within Wellers todayHas that influenced the career structure and teams we see within Wellers today?

Definitely! Historically you became a partner, grew your portfolio of clients and once that reached a certain level you could justify bringing in a junior partner. You would then promote the person you had worked closely with.

Today, a candidate has to demonstrate a far broader range of commercial skills to be recognised as a true business advisor and therefore showing the potential for a partnership role.

We have developed a career structure that operates throughout the firm from partner level to trainees. Everything depends on growth but everybody now has a shadow or deputy. At my level one of the board members will soon be fulfilling this function.

Firstly, I hope that when I eventually step down there will be 3 or 4 potential candidates in place to take on my role. The partnership will then vote on who is most suitable. The other acid test for us as a firm will be through retention rates. If we are doing the right things then we will retain the great clients that we have.

If we look after our people, train and develop them then we will retain the best staff. Get both of those aspects right and we will also succeed in obtaining more of the right clients.

What did it mean to you to take on this role?

It took me by surprise. People treat you a little differently and it took a while to get used to it. What it does do though is open up opportunities, for example I met Humphrey Walters (famous for his work with the 2003 World Cup winning England Rugby team and BT Global Challenge, dubbed “The World’s Toughest Round the World Yacht Race”) and we were lucky enough to persuade him to do our staff training day recently relaying his experiences of improving teams and applying them to our business. The added gravitas of the role means I have met and been introduced to some interesting and fascinating business people.

How does it differ from being a partner

How does it differ from being a partner?

As a partner you are determined to make the business a success but to use a footballing analogy I suspect it is a bit like going from being a player to a manager. You suddenly become responsible for the whole thing whereas before, if you were doing your bit right and fulfilling all your partner objectives then that was fine and all you needed to worry about. Now, I have to check that everybody else is doing their bit and that makes it more of a global view.

You have done a year in the role, what has been your biggest achievement in that time?

The new partner contribution framework we have put together with Gwenllian Williams of deWinton-Williams Consulting. Even though partners are owners of the firm, I have a responsibility to oversee everybody’s contribution and ensure that ties in with the objectives of how we reward success and remunerate people.

We are developing a framework for rain makers and the real drivers of the business. If you have 13 partners as we do then you are all going to have different strengths and skill sets. So the framework will allow us to acknowledge people’s contributions across the board.

We have set this out to ensure people’s efforts are acknowledged and rewarded while their skills are developed and retained in-house. This has been put in place and we are starting to measure contribution.

What do you enjoy most about being managing partner?

The variation is great but what I love is seeing other people develop, improve and achieve success. Tied into that is recognising that we have really great people and as part of that a career structure and succession in place. I am not convinced other firms really have that to be honest.

I want to ensure that Wellers is as good a place to work as it can possibly be. We have a lot of bright, talented young people. Ercan Demiralay became a partner last year at the age of just 28, while Jasmine Brook was the youngest person in the firm's history to gain full qualification. Both of them then featured in Accountancy Age's 35 under 35, a list of the brightest young talent in the accounting sector.

Other accomplished young people who have achieved full professional qualification recently include, Bethany Whitmore, Sophie Robins and Ben Brookes. If they then kick on to partner level in the future, I will be very happy.

Do you have a personal ambition in the role?

Yes, to leave it in the best possible place for the next person. I want to create it as a position for people to strive for and obtain.

In her follow up post, Kathleen discusses what she sees as the future of the accounting industry, her vision for the firm  and how this will translate into the service clients receive.

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