Young Professionals to Management: ‘Don’t Try to Be Our Friends’

By Marc Rosenberg

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FEBRUARY 2008 - The advice in the title of this article was the highlight of the Rosenberg Associates Second Annual Staff Forum, in November 2006. We convened a group of young professionals (nine men and six women) in the accounting profession, each from a different Chicago-area firm. The purpose was to find out what they think about their jobs, partners, future in the accounting profession, compensation, and how building a career fits in a work/life balance.

Partners in their 40s and up, particularly partners over 50, seem to be having an especially difficult time understanding today’s young people. They ask: “What’s the best way to interact with them, to treat them?”

We put that question to the focus group and their comments were: “[Partners] seem to think that the best way to get to know us is to try and be our friends. Well, we don’t want them to be our friends. We want them to be a great boss to us, someone who trains us, mentors us, helps us grow professionally, and is a good role model for us.”

Other Highlights

  • Compensation is very, very important to these young professionals.
  • Work/life balance is very important. When we drilled down on this topic, we found they didn’t have problems with the total hours commitment. “As long as I get my work done, what does it matter when, where, and how?”
  • Even though they find tax season draining, the group said they can live with it. It’s part of the job. (A group of young professionals surveyed last year found it oppressive.)
  • Just under half of the group wanted to become partner. If a partnership wasn’t possible, then they’d move on.
  • The group thought that their partners work all the time, approaching 3,000 hours a year. (The actual number of hours is
    closer to 2,400.)
  • They are willing to market; it doesn’t scare them.
  • Partners who compete for staff and have conflicting ideas about how work gets done continue to be a source of irritation to staff.
  • Women don’t see much of a future at firms that don’t have female partner role models.
  • They thought partners earned roughly $241,000. (The Chicago norm is actually $300,000.) They thought $300,000 was “a lot,” and worth some sacrifice.

The bottom line is this: Accounting firms that want to retain young professionals must cultivate them. That means: “Pay us well, invest in our professional development, outline a career track for us, and support us during our family formation years.”

Marc Rosenberg, CPA, is president of the Rosenberg Associates, a management consulting firm serving the CPA profession. He works with firms on partner compensation, retirement and succession planning, mergers, retreats, strategic planning, and practice management review. He can be reached at This article is adapted from the firm’s newsletter, The Management Catalyst. Used with permission.




















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