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Pekarsky & Co. Mid-October 2015 Newsletter – Living The Dream

October 15, 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This month’s feature contributor is none other than our firm’s first ever hire, Ranju Shergill.  I’ve written about Ranju before, fittingly when she first became a partner in April 2014. Back then oil was north of $100/bbl and Calgary was booming. She bought in at a valuation of the firm that reflected the times and since then has experienced all that partnership has to offer: the good, the bad, and everything in between. She writes about it below.

It struck me as I read through her final draft that unlike another powerful Alberta woman who rose to high office in one environment only to have to lead through another, Ranju, entirely unlike our Premier, has embraced the challenges of the day with enthusiasm, energy, passion, humour and drive. She is unfazed by the headwinds and, in fact, is embracing them as an opportunity to grow our brand, steal marketshare and push the firm in ways I had not envisioned. I make this connection because of the political climate around us (an election Monday that I predict will bring a Liberal minority to power, even though, to my eyes at least, Justin Trudeau has campaigned for our land’s highest office much like a grade 9 student campaigns for VP Treasurer on his Junior High grad committee).  But I digress.

You see, we sponsored a table recently at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon whereat Premier Notley addressed 1600 Calgary business types with all the charisma, energy, passion and innovation of a mortician. I for one think the PCs got what they deserved last spring but I’m not sure we deserve what we got. A leader walking on egg shells talking about egg shells as the next great innovation to diversify our economy? Calming nerves that weren’t frayed with a pledge to not introduce a provincial sales tax (which I actually think most people in that room would support) yet no mention of the pain of layoffs ripping through the province, something clearly on everyone’s mind. Don Braid, with whom I almost never agree, said it very well in this article from the Calgary Herald. Ranju is proof positive that just because the floor shifts beneath your feet, that doesn’t mean you get to mail it in, lose the fight or shrug your shoulders and say “hey, I didn’t set the price of oil”. She may yet get there, after all we have 4 years to find out, but if our Premier had half the moxie of my partner, we’d all be in very good shape, indeed.

Adam

Pekarsky & Co. Partnership – Living the Dream 

A business partnership is like a marriage in many respects. One similarity is listening to your partner tell the same story for the millionth time yet pretending it’s the first. And I’ve heard Adam tell many a partner the one about partnership that he heard from someone a long time ago; that partnership is like a pie-eating competition where the first prize is more pie. I always laughed, on cue and just so, but I didn’t really understand it until I became a partner here at Pekarsky & Co.

On shows such as Mad Men, ‘making partner’ is always portrayed as the ultimate achievement; the brass ring at the end of the long path to ultimate success in any professional services firm. The pinnacle of one’s professional career after years of toil and hard work as a mere employee. The proverbial carrot for the diligent plough horse. But if partnership was all that it’s hyped to be, why is there such a well-worn path from the professional services firms of Western Canada to our front door? Why do we meet so many soon-to-be or recently-anointed partners feeling disillusioned, unappreciated, unfulfilled, and not in the mood for carrots? Or can you really have your carrot cake and eat it too? Ok, that was a mom joke, but be patient with me, I haven’t written an article since 2013.

Although it’s true we see, hear and feel a lot of “get me the hell out of private practice”, we also meet lots of partners who love it. So much so that I remain committed to being open-minded should my kids choose a career in professional services, as I not-so-subtly  suggested in my previous article; Should You Let Your Kids Grow Up To Be Lawyers?. In my own case, I decided to step into the Pekarsky & Co. partnership more than a year ago without hesitation. Ok, that’s not totally true, but understandably, I can’t really share my list of pros and cons of my partners, Adam and Rick, right now (call me).

I will say this: Partnership has been an interesting change. Kinda reminds me of when I thought having kids was not going to change my life for one minute. Why would it?  I would continue to do things for me, see my friends, go to shows, party late, sleep in, and never, ever, become that soccer mom. In my naivety, I thought the step to partnership wouldn’t change a thing either. I mean it’s the same job, same work, same everything, just more rewards no?

In fact, and this is another refrain I’ve heard from Adam a million times, the first year of partnership in any professional services firm can be the loneliest, most difficult of them all. You’re no longer the top performing Associate earning a decent salary and nice bonuses; rather, you’re the junior-most partner, having written a large cheque, now fending for yourself and starting all over again.  It’s assumed that you know what you’re doing by now, but it’s time to step it up. Eat more pie. It’s time to prove yourself beyond just the art and science of search, but now also a business leader, a mentor, a counsellor, a process efficiency expert, a top producer. It’s about having the protective filters removed and seeing behind the curtain. Living life quarterly, monthly, weekly. Speaking sensibly and plausibly about finances, IT, risk and a seemingly unending amount of things totally unrelated to simply showing up at the office and executing on the searches currently sitting on your desk. Adam always says to everyone in the office “I want you to own it. Own it like it’s your own.” Well, now I do. And it reminds me of  what I said to my husband on the way to the hospital while in labour: “Any chance I could change my mind?”

Partnership is a heckuva lot more work than you might think. In a boutique firm such as ours, where we are the Marketing Department, the HR Department and the IT, Finance and Accounting Departments, and where, at this particular boutique firm, we  have an ambition to be the very best in the business, and I have a very fair but hard-driving guy in the office next door, there’s a constant pressure to take on more work, bring in more work, build the business, fix the business, and keep up with billable work if you want to feel like you’re contributing. More pie!! And this doesn’t even begin to address the liabilities that suddenly start taking over your sleeping hours because all of a sudden you’re on “the hook”? Don’t remember the bit about “the hook” in the Partnership Agreement…

Interestingly, while most people wished me well and congratulated me on achieving Partnership at our firm it was the Managing Partners who responded with “Congratulations…if that’s what you really want” which I take to be code for, “hope you like pie”. Well almost two years into partnership and I love it. I thrive in it. And perhaps those folks who come see us wanting out, don’t want out of the partnership model, they simply want out of the partnership they’re currently in. Those huge global firms where partnership often feels more like running a desk at Re/Max than it does a true shared enterprise with a common pursuit, where you have a say in the strategy and direction of the day-to-day. Or the smaller firm partnerships where the frustration stems from having to be all things to all people all the time. One person’s disaffection or disenfranchisement being partner number 3,286 is another’s safety net. One person’s enjoyment of running and building a small firm, is another’s bed of nails. Point is: Don’t jump into a partnership for the glory of it. Pick your partners carefully. Trust, ethics, values, and a shared commitment and contribution, financial or otherwise, to the cause. No passengers. No blamers. No freeloaders. Those are the hallmarks of truly successful partnerships, such as ours.

So, why did I do it? They say it’s for the title and money. Can’t be the title considering I didn’t order new business cards until nearly a year later because it was another non-billable task I just didn’t get to (did I mention we are also the Procurement Department?). And the money, well, sure, in good times partners can make a nice living but “the hook” can get pretty sharp and pointy when the market softens. For me, it’s more about believing in what we do, enjoying what we do, and wanting to keep doing and improving it. Optimists say that going through difficult times makes you smarter, stronger and more resilient. I’m up for the challenge and fortunately, in this partnership, our business is not a source of trouble, and even though the market around us is causing grief and difficult times, we have an excellent team committed to sticking it out, and I have no doubt that this partnership will thrive and grow.

Good partners are hard to find (and keep).  Guess that’s why I’m in a 23 year marriage. Bodes well for Pekarsky too.

Ranju Shergill is a Partner with Pekarsky & Co. She was the firm’s first ever employee and she has successfully made the proverbial journey from the mail room to the corner office.  

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