When A Partner’s Name Gets On The Door

Marc Rosenberg, CPA / Apr 27, 2011

A small client of mine promoted a manager to partner three years ago.  The new partner recently asked the MP when his name would be put on the door.

The firm is a $3M practice with two partners, located in a small city.  The MP is 61 and originated 70% of the firm’s business; his 58 year-old partner brought in most of the remainder.  The new partner was absolutely critical to the firm as a very able technician and client handler, but not as a business-getter.  The firm’s name has had both partners’ names in it for 30 years.

The MP was reluctant to make the change for three reasons:

  1. Continuity of the same name.
  2. Do we change the firm name every time a new partner comes in?
  3. The new partner hadn’t brought in enough business to earn his name on the door.

How would you advise the MP?

I solicited responses from several of my consulting colleagues and the results were mixed.  Some agreed with the MP.

But some of us felt that, since the new partner is critical to the firm, this must mean he would be hard to replace.  We don’t see it as a big deal to add a third name.  The name change could even be turned into a PR blitz in the business community.

Should the name change every time a new partner comes in?  Let’s deal with it when the time comes.  However, the trend is clearly to shorten rather than lengthen company names.

Rejecting the name change because the new partner doesn’t bring in business is interesting.  Roughly 80% or more of partners in firms under $10M are not business-getters, but many have their names in the firm name.

If the younger partner is the future of the firm, the MP should go along with the younger partner’s request, but only after a few years and some training.  The MP should ratchet up the new partner’s skills with intensive coaching, training and support to network and develop business.  Once it’s clear that the effort is there and some results start coming in, perhaps in a couple of years, a name change could be made.

Many thanks to contributions from Jennifer Wilson, Bob Martin, Steve Erickson, Rita Keller, Steve Weinstein, August Aquila, Chris Frederiksen, Rich Rinehart and Gordon Gilchrist.

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