Blog - Management speak

Rainmakers: A class apart

Is taking on a lateral hire rainmaker a risk? It could be, says Rowan Williams of Baker Tilly.

Looking after rainmakers takes a certain type of approach

Many firms have had their fingers burned by taking on lateral hire partners who simply don’t work out. However, many have used this as a highly successful way to help propel their firm’s growth ahead of the competition.

Rain makers are not all the same - if you treat them as such then it will be like buying a ticket in the lottery. So how do you get it right and avoid making a very expensive mistake?

Good rainmakers all outwardly have similar characteristics. They will have a strong track record of winning work and they are all well connected. They have good social skills and a strong work ethic.

It is the characteristics that you can’t see on the surface though which hold the key to getting it right. For this, it is worth being aware that rainmakers generally fall into two distinct categories – those who value integration highly and those who don’t.  Both are capable of delivering brilliant results for you, but it is important to have a very clear understanding of which type you have and how to manage them effectively.

For those who do value integration, being part of a team and fitting in is important.  For them, it will be about the culture and strategy of the firm as much as about the financial package. Making a difference to the firm and being recognised for their contribution, not just financially, will matter. They will actively seek out enthusiastic members of your existing team to work with them and will be happy to share their knowledge.  Serious effort is therefore needed both at the outset and on an on-going basis to integrate them and make them feel valued.   If this is neglected, remember, they are the types who will have started to bond with your existing team and therefore if they are unhappy and decide to go, they may leave you with a demotivated group of people.

At the other end of the spectrum are those for whom integration isn’t that important.  They will want a home where they can continue to develop their client base and be suitably rewarded.  The reputation of the firm they join will therefore be of great importance, but beyond that, they may not be that bothered.   Being able to achieve the best results they can is what will drive them.  As mentioned above, they will be sociable people, however, being sociable doesn’t translate into needing to integrate or to be part of a new team. They will certainly want to network internally to maximise new work opportunities, but this is very different to wanting to transfer their skills to your existing team.  If they are leaders in their field, they could bring significant results to your practice, but if they decide to move on, then there is no legacy in terms of skill set that they will leave behind.  You should still focus on integrating them quickly and effectively, but don’t waste your time on trying to involve them in things that simply don’t matter to them.

If your firm is strong on culture, then the first type will work better for you.  If your firm is more corporate in nature and has an ‘eat what you kill’ approach, then you are probably better off with one of the second type. In either case, what is critical for success is an understanding of how to manage them.

Identifying and managing a rain maker should be easier for small single location firms where management can more readily react to the behaviour of an individual , but for larger global players recruiting higher numbers at partner level, you will need to establish some clear protocols around this area to ensure you get it right.

Remember, if you take on a lateral hire, they have by definition moved from another firm to you, and therefore won’t fear doing it again if they don’t settle.  It is worth spending some serious time ensuring this doesn’t happen at your firm and instead, reaping the tremendous benefits which they could bring to you.

Rowan Williams is  Baker Tilly's Head of London and South Professional Practices Group



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17 January 2014

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