Accounting Partners are just Franchisees

People get into public practice accounting for different reasons.

  • Job security.
  • The satisfaction of working in digits all day.
  • Interest in money and finances.
  • Understanding business.
  • Family expectations.

For me, it was a mix of all of those things.

  • I had a thing for numbers.
  • I wanted to learn about finance and eventually own a business.
  • I knew accounting was a safe career path (cue Benjamin Franklin idiom about death and taxes).
  • I have an Asian mother…

I had no idea WTF a Debit or a Credit was, or why Assets less Liabilities = Owners Equity

I just figured that accounting would tick the boxes for me.

After 6 months of of working in public practice, I quickly understood what ‘success’ looked like in a public practice firm.

It’s all about promotions.

You started as a graduate and your goal was to get all the way to the top — to Partner.

All the way to the top

Being a Partner was the ultimate. The very definition of success.

Partners got awesome perks. Exclusive silverware laden buffet lunches, exotic corporate retreats, nice cars, 7 figure salaries.

If you made Partner — you knew you were set for life.

You were untouchable.

As a young and naive grad, I too was lured into the idea of being a partner of a firm. It’s the kind of life that one aspires to achieve. I mean, why else would you bust your ass in public practice, working longer hours and receiving dismal pay compared to your peers that jumped ship into the ‘mundane’ world of Commerce?

After several years in the profession, I decided that being partner of a firm was not what I wanted. It was not a clear cut decision at the time, and a story better saved for another blog.

I left the ‘profession’ and started my business, which was the real reason why I pursued this career path in the first instance.

Yes, I still am an accountant (and proud to call myself one). I also own a business that provides accounting services.

However, nor I, my business partner, nor any of our team members refer to the term ‘Partner’.

Why? Because we run our business as owners, not Partners.

I believe there is a subtle difference.


A management consultant and ex ‘Big-4’ friend of mine recently reached out to me with an email that went like this:

Subject heading: Partnerships are analogous to franchises

Hi mate,
I had this thought over the weekend while chatting with a good partner friend at PwC, and on stewing on it over the weekend, found myself thinking of you (totally in a professional way!)
The idea came to me when the Partner friend said “They tell you it’s your business, but…really”. And on reflection, nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s a couple of reasons why I think being a partner in a large partnership is analogous to being a franchisee:
— Both of these are heads down producing the widget their corporate office tells them to produce
— For both of these, if you don’t produce the widget, head office will just give your sales territory to someone else
— Both of these are operationally focused, not strategic; they’re too busy making widgets so they can reach their annual sales target to worry about what might happen in 5 years
— Both of these have someone else that do their marketing, HR and tech
— Both of these have bought into someone else’s brand, and someone else’s vision of the future.
— Both of these desperately hope they have picked the best franchise, but how can you tell? All the widgets look the same!

Let’s break it down a little…

So yeah, accounting firm Partnerships are very much akin to Franchises.

What’s my point?

My message is this

If you are a technician. You love the work you do with your clients and like the support of being part of an established brand, then a Partnership is probably for you.

If your desire is to build a business. To build something that’s bigger than yourself. To take complete control of your professional career, then perhaps buying into a Partnership may not be the right path. Maybe you’re better off starting something for yourself. Not subscribing to somebody else’s agenda.

Whatever your goals, just be clear on the reasons why.