Auditing Section Research Summaries Space

A Database of Auditing Research - Building Bridges with Practice

This is a public Custom Hive  public

research summary

    Being a Successful Professional: An Exploration of who Makes...
    research summary posted July 28, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 05.0 Audit Team Composition, 05.05 Diversity of Skill Sets e.g., Tenure and Experience 
    Being a Successful Professional: An Exploration of who Makes Partner in the Big 4.
    Practical Implications:

    This article has sought to profile the partner habitus in Big 4 firms in order to better understand what constitutes success within this context. The need to generate revenue tends to undermine ethics and professional independence. In the context of the accounting field, the authors would argue that to be a professional at the top level essentially means to embody commercialism. If commercial concerns dominate the habitus of the leaders of Big 4 firms, then one can expect future conflicts and tensions to occur with traditional professional values. Although in one sense equity partnership is becoming more exclusive and difficult to attain, the authors equally show how making partner is more meritocratic than in the past, as social ties are less important.


    Carter, C., and C. Spence. 2014. Being a Successful Professional: An Exploration of Who Makes Partner in the Big 4. Contemporary Accounting Research 31 (4): 949-981.

    accounting firms, partnership, professional corporations
    Purpose of the Study:

    Professionalismin the ideal-type sense of the termis not disappearing, but its meaning in practice is clearly changing being fused with commercialism in ways that appear to vary across firms, sectors, geographical contexts, and even within firms themselves. The twenty-first century accounting professional is likely to embody different logicsranging from traditional accounting values through to entrepreneurial practices. This paper explores the theme of what it means to be a successful professional in the Big 4 today. The researchers ask the questions: 

    • Is there a significant gap between partners’ socioeconomic origins and their current status in society?
    • What are the meaningful distinctions between partners and those just below partner level in the Big 4?
    • What are the perceived essential qualities of partners in the Big 4?
    • In what ways can the accounting partners of today be distinguished from partners of previous generations in terms of their habitus and capital portfolios?
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    This paper reports on a series of qualitative interviews undertaken with 32 senior professionals in the Big 4 between 2010 and 2012 in Canada and the UK. The interviews lasted between 45 minutes and 3 hours and were semi structured. Individuals came from three of the Big 4 firms, with one individual not from Big 4 and one individual who worked for Arthur Andersen. All the interviewees were white and only three were female.

    • Success in the Big 4 is measured, ultimately, in terms of economic capital.
    • Interviewees uniformly emphasized that the skills required to be a partner were primarily those that could be deployed in order to generate revenue, win new business, and maintain or enhance existing and potential client relationships.
    • Beyond the primary importance of selling and business development, technical abilities and competencies were also highlighted by interviewees as of importance.
    • Several partners openly acknowledged having subordinates who were technically much more competent than they were and that their job was to “call in the specialists” whenever needed.
    • The UK interviewees came from relatively modest backgroundsaspirational working class or lower-middle class; they were generally educated in the state system and were the children of parents who themselves were unlikely to have had the luxury of higher education.
    • It was unusual for an interviewee to have received a privileged education at the secondary level and/or to have attended an elite university. Of the 32 interviewees, only three fitted this mold, one of whom left the Big 4 at senior manager level complaining that he never fit into the culture.
    Audit Team Composition
    Diversity of Skill Sets (e.g. Tenure & Experience)