SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Extant literature on professional services firms in general, and on the Big Four accounting firms in particular, consistently shows that these firms are in a state of institutional flux. In turn, it has been argued that new types of professionals are emerging within this context. Adopting a sociological perspective inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, this article unravels the meaning of success within the Big Four via an exploration of who makes partner. Specifically, the paper reports upon a qualitative study undertaken with partners and other senior accountants in three Big Four firms between December 2010 and September 2012. The findings of the study are four-fold: firstly, it is shown that, although Big Four partners might be thought of as belonging to the upper echelons of society, making partner is open to individuals from modest family backgrounds; secondly, partners draw sharp distinctions between themselves and those just below partner level in terms of what each is capable of, implying that different types of professional exist at different levels within the Big Four; thirdly, partners embody entrepreneurialism and a concern for revenue generation more than they embody technical expertise; and, fourthly, the requirements for making partner today are different from the criteria that previous generations of partners were subject to. Finally, a key insight of this paper is that the central distinguishing features of successful professionals in the Big Four are tied to commercialism.