Accepted by Yves Gendron. We would like to thank seminar participants at both the United Arab Emirates University and Newcastle University for comments on previous versions of this paper. Additionally, Michel Magnan and Glenn Rioulx were both particularly helpful in facilitating interviews for the Canadian branch of the study, as well as in offering general advice at the outset. The financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is also warmly acknowledged. The detailed comments offered on each of the paper's various iterations by Yves Gendron and two anonymous reviewers are greatly appreciated. Any remaining errors are our own.
Being a Successful Professional: An Exploration of Who Makes Partner in the Big 4†
Article first published online: 24 JUN 2014
Contemporary Accounting Research
How to Cite
Carter, C. and Spence, C. (2014), Being a Successful Professional: An Exploration of Who Makes Partner in the Big 4. Contemporary Accounting Research. doi: 10.1111/1911-3846.12059
- Article first published online: 24 JUN 2014
- Accepted manuscript online: 17 AUG 2013 06:59AM EST
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.