For a young, ambitious CPA, managing up is just as important as doing what’s listed in the job description. That’s because impressing the managing partner can drastically improve your career development.
“You may be in a firm with 20, 200, or 2,000 people, but it's important to become memorable, to give [the partners] something they might remember talking with you about,” said Rachael Sarson, CPA, a manager at CLH PC in Michigan City, Ind. “It makes you more visible, and I think one of the best things, especially for young staff, is it helps build that relationship.”
A prime example is the career of Antonio “Tony” Argiz, CPA/ABV/CFF, CGMA, the chairman and CEO of Miami-based Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Farra (MBAF), one of the nation’s largest accounting firms. Early in his career, Argiz met a managing partner who would help him become a managing partner himself one day.
MBAF’s founder, the late Albert Morrison Jr., saw promise in Argiz before he saw it himself. Morrison helped Argiz realize the importance of establishing relationships with people, beyond just doing the work, Argiz said.
“I was too focused at times, too driven, and he would try to slow me down and give me pointers and (help me) open up to people,” Argiz said. “He helped me succeed and really take over his firm and take it to another level.
“He was always there with me until he passed away,” Argiz said.
It was a two-way street. Argiz worked hard, often on Morrison’s accounts, was loyal, and kept him informed about business.
“He was trying to polish me, make me a better person,” Argiz said, “so I’d be able to communicate with others and understand that not everybody is the same.”
Treat your managing partner like a person, and not just a boss, advises DeAnn Auman Hill, CPA, CGMA, who owns an accounting firm in Baxter Springs, Kan.
“Feel free to speak to the managing partner,” Hill said. “Feel free to set up a time and go talk to them. Don't be a stranger, and don't act like that they have the Bubonic plague.”
Just pick your moment, Hill said. Don't waste the managing partner’s time, but also don’t feel as if he or she is completely unapproachable.
The feedback you get from talking to managing partners, and partners in general, can be extremely valuable. Hill recounts such an experience in her career: As a young accountant fresh out of college, she was frustrated by the types of accounts often assigned to her.
Specifically, Hill often got accounts from clients who hadn’t kept organized records. She asked, during a performance review, why the “botched jobs” kept coming her way.
One of the partners called her and explained that she got those challenging assignments because management knew she could handle them.
“You can get them done,” the partner told Hill. “Some of the staffers complain because they don’t even know where to start. They’re so overwhelmed that they just sit there and stare at it.”
Regardless of the potential rewards, starting these conversations isn’t easy.
“Talking to a managing partner is really intimidating, even when you become a manager,” said Sarson, a graduate of the 2012 AICPA Leadership Academy. “But we have to understand how to communicate with them better. If you add in some conversations about personal interests, every time you talk to him [or her] it’s going to become easier.”
Sarson, Argiz, and Hill offered other real-world tips for impressing the managing partner.
- Show you’re engaged and interested. “Ask, ‘Hey, how was your anniversary last weekend?’ ‘How was your kid’s birthday?’ Anything that gets them talking about things they really care about is usually a good thing,” Sarson said. Work calendars and firm newsletters are great places to find conversation starters, she said.
- Fit in, then stand out. “The big thing to do is develop industry expertise, technical expertise, and practice development tools,” Argiz said. “At the beginning, you need to think more about fitting in, making sure that things are timely, and paying attention to your work, your involvement, and the amount of energy you put in on the job. Standing out is important as you gain knowledge and move up the ladder.”
- Share the firm’s interests. The managing partner is the face of the firm, which means he or she is involved in charitable and professional causes that are important to the business. “Be inquisitive as to how they got started in that area if you are interested in that,” Hill said.
Sheon Ladson Wilson is a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.
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