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The coach: ‘Should I borrow money to buy equity in my practice?’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who worries that it’s too soon to invest in their new employer

I recently joined a small practice after a long period of being wooed. I really like the main partner, was offered a considerably higher salary, and was flattered they wanted to make me an associate. But recently, it transpired that the main partner now wants to retire, and all the associates have been given the opportunity to buy some equity, either with our own cash or with a bank loan. The trouble is this wasn’t really what I expected. I don’t actually have that much money, I don’t own my own place, let alone have money to invest. Also, I don’t really know the other partners yet, it has only been a few months.

Matthew turner

Although your situation may seem difficult, remember it is ultimately positive, in that you are in a position of trust in this practice, and clearly you must have the skill set that the partners wanted to add. You should also be congratulated, as the step up to an associate is clearly a career progression.

The issue here is whether this offer makes good financial and personal sense to you. The difference between being an employee and an equity partner is crucial, and you are right to treat the opportunity carefully.

 

Becoming committed to this practice is a good way to build and maintain your influence on your work in the future

Financially entering into a business is a real commitment, so your concern about not knowing your potential future partners is well founded. By this point you probably only have an inkling of the inbuilt dysfunctions and complexities of your fellow associates (and let’s be honest, all practices have them to a lesser or greater degree), so the prospect of being bonded to them seems quite understandably unknown. Added to this is your financial situation. It is a sad reflection of today’s housing market that your situation is different from those a few years your senior, who would be more able to consider taking on a financial risk at your age, as they already had the stability of a mortgage.

It is, however, curious that the prospect of this was not mooted when you were interviewed. Perhaps there is a lesson here on interviewing prospective employers as much as them interviewing you – salary and status aren’t the only things to gauge when contemplating a move.

The advantage of committing to this practice is that some people find remaining an employee indeterminately can soon reduce their influence on what they spend your working hours doing. Becoming committed to this practice is a good way to build and maintain your influence on your work in the future. 

In the end, though, you shouldn’t feel forced to take on this commitment. A face-saving option might be to outline the financial reasons why you can’t accept, and suggest you continue as a non-equity associate.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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