Finance professionals who want to get to the top should, as early as possible in their careers, evaluate if they have the right skills and experience to become a Managing Director.
Finding the gaps in what you bring to the table will help you fill them to position yourself to get promoted. Here’s some more advice.
Are you in a Managing Director seat?
If you are clearly MD material, a firm will usually find some way to promote you, although the timing may vary. The business unit you are in and your role within it can be instrumental to achieving your promotion, and to doing so in a time-frame that you deserve.
Some candidates get there by being immensely successful in a focused technical role. That can give them a place in the line-up, although where they land may depend on the strength of their business contribution and the needs of that business at that point. Other candidates are highly versatile: people we can envision running the firm someday, or at least being a real contender.
Whatever your route, make sure you are not only in a role in which you can excel, but one that can support (or, better yet, requires) MD level seniority. If a really good junior ED can do your job just as well as an MD, then you are probably not in the right role. MDs are too expensive to put into just any seat.
Joan, one of my clients, was particularly good at executing investment banking deals, especially complex and documentation-intensive ones with many moving parts. However, Joan did not have a role in bringing in the business, and it was harder for her boss to argue her case for promotion when there were always other people who did bring in clients competing against her. Furthermore, the execution team already had two MDs and it was unclear that a third was necessary for the business. The firm did value Joan’s contribution, so she ultimately made it to MD. However, it took several years longer to get there than for colleagues who had the whole package including great business-generating results. Interestingly, while some who were promoted before her have come and gone, she now runs the group: sometimes quality wins out over speed in the long-run.
Have you helped your boss make the case?
It is in your interest to make yourself easy to support. Find out what the promotion criteria are, and make people aware that you have these qualities in spades. While this is decidedly not a popularity contest, the system is usually far from stellar in providing perfect information, so handle your own PR. The more people who know who you are and what you can do (and have done), the easier it will be for your boss to successfully make your case to the people who decide.
Is your timing good?
It also matters what kind of year the business is having. When times are good, firms can afford to promote more people to MDs. In fact, more MDs are needed to run burgeoning books of business. In lean times, the cut off point is more stringent. The same may hold true for the specific business unit that you are in. Depending on the lay of the land and how strong a performer you are, patience may have to be your virtue.
Finally, know that making MD is only partly under your control. Do everything you can to excel in the job you have been given and to show that you are an obvious candidate. Then, as difficult as it is, let the chips fall where they may.