Professional services are changing all the time, and in order to keep firms running at an optimal level, Managing Partners must be innovative with their approaches to employee experience and retention.
Co-host of The Interview Luke James speaks with Richard Kleiner, CEO of Gerald Edelman, about his career journey, his perspective on building a high-performing workplace, and the firm's initiatives around inclusion. He also provides tips for those starting in the sector and how to develop a culture of learning and growth within a company.
I’m the Managing Partner or CEO of a mid-tier firm of accountants and advisors called Gerald Edelman. We are just outside the top 50 in the UK in terms of revenue with around 130 team members. We are a full-service firm covering all aspects of professional and business services across a range of service lines.
I qualified with the firm at the age of 23 and was keen to climb the ladder. I was promoted through the ranks and made partner at 27. I started building a client portfolio by engaging with people in different service lines. Another Partner and I founded the firm's Financial Services division, and that became pretty quickly 10% of our revenue line. I became a Managing Partner by 36 — running the business was a strength of mine, and I could see the journey necessary to grow it.
In 2010, I decided that the partnership operating model wasn't working with modern businesses, so I went about corporatising the firm's operations, which included different heads of department reporting to the Exec board. Over the last decade, we have grown a lot, and we've got two new service lines that we are currently working on through strategic alliances with other organisations.
In corporate finance transactions, I always say to my clients, try to position yourself not as a seller — if a buyer sees you as a seller, then the price is only headed in one direction. I also say go to the first meeting and then don’t go to any more meetings — it’s easier to dig your heels in, and if the deal looks like it isn't going to go ahead, then you can always go back in and reach a compromise. In business, there is always a management of expectations piece where you need to look at every possible angle.
It's about reporting lines. Our reporting lines run into an executive board of which I am the chair. It's making sure people are accountable and transparent in all the communication they have. The partnership structure leaves too much of a gap between the partners and everyone else. With this structure, other people have the opportunity to interact with the board that aren't partners.
Delegation leads to empowerment, and that's what professional services are built on because it gives the individual the opportunity to shine, which is what we want.
We try to create a culture where there is very little fear and instil in the team that there is no harm in delegation. Delegation leads to empowerment, and that's what professional services are built on because it gives the individual the opportunity to shine, which is what we want. There is no point in Partners doing all of the work and taking all of the credit — all the workflow should be done as a team.
As the leader of the firm, I am there to serve the firm and all of its team members in whichever way it’s needed. Even though I still deal with a large portfolio of clients, I don't work on them, I just strategically advise and make sure everything is running as it should be. Over the years, the whole partnership culture, driven by old-school partners, was very outdated and never really belonged; the fun bit for me is inspiring people to achieve and aspire to be better. We want to challenge our employees, and we want them to challenge back.
We pride ourselves on working on a meritocracy basis — nothing else is judged. If you look at our team, we are diverse, and people are asked to come and join us if we believe they clear the meritocracy bar, nothing else matters. Embracing diversity is about mutual respect, and it is something that is valued here. We have a DEI committee that drives that agenda, we’ve invested a huge amount into it, and we are at the beginning of that journey which will be an endless one. We are looking to bring on more female partners while still valuing merit, for example. Four years ago, we had no female partners, and now we have three, which make up around 18%, and I can see that the number is going to rise in terms of promotions in the near future too.
It's a very stimulating sector, and if people can try and combine a high degree of determination with their talent and apply the broad principles through training, then there is no reason why you can't go all the way. My expectation of anyone who starts here is for them to make Partner if that’s what they want — I don't see why people can’t achieve that. This means we need to ensure that we have appropriate career progression opportunities in place to allow that to happen.
Recognise it's an endless journey, and therefore you have to take baby steps. Learning and growth are so important to the firm and particularly to the team, and if they feel empowered, then there is no reason for them to leave. If they think we aren't doing enough, I’d encourage them to push back and say so.