Rainmaker vs CEO

Rainmaker vs CEO

By Colin Mercer

The stay or go dilemma 

Star performers sometimes have doubts about staying with their firm. CEOs worry about holding on to their big names. What causes these doubts? Sometimes it’s down to a personality clash. But more often it is due to a difference in perspective – there are two sides to every story. We’re used to advising on situations like this one. See if anything sounds familiar to you…


I am one of the biggest billers in our firm. I generate nearly 20% of our annual revenue. Every day I take on daunting, complex, high-profile assignments in order to help our firm succeed.

I often lie in bed at night genuinely fearful of what I have to do the following day. There is nothing lonelier than that moment when you step into the fray.

I work longer hours than most of my colleagues. I spend more nights away from home and I take more personal risk – putting myself in harm’s way. And I see less of my children. My spouse asks: “Does everyone work as hard as you? Why is it always our weekends that suffer?

I am very well paid – I earn more than I or my parents ever imagined. But in terms of sheer fairness, I should probably be paid more. Much of my fee income is spent paying the salaries of staff in our support functions.

Other professionals in the firm often want access to my contacts, and I am usually happy to oblige. But why are they not able to build their own contact base?

I love our firm, but should I stay here? I feel it is too slow, insufficiently client focused, and a little bloated. Mediocrity is commonplace, and we have lots of back-office resource not focused on sales or delivery.

My boss is competent. She understands the professional life and undoubtedly has credibility having won her spurs out in the market, where it matters. But as CEO she tolerates under-performance and has lost some of her commercial edge.

Is this the right place for me, or should I move somewhere where the ambition matches my own? I do love this firm though, and especially the people in it. Maybe I just need to stop moaning.


Maya is a star performer. Brave, tireless, commercial, and sharp as a tack. She built a book of business, and then a whole department, based upon her ceaseless effort, industry and entrepreneurialism.

She drives a significant portion of our revenue. More than that, her business area is strategically important – a growth market that our firm should be known for. She is not the only show in town – we have a few other big-hitters. But we do need her.

She is quite a character. Quick-witted and straight-talking, sometimes intolerant of those around her. She burns though admin support like no tomorrow. She inspires enormous admiration across the firm but is not a great manager. Perhaps because she is so self-sufficient she assumes her people need little support, or even time with her.

We have made repeated attempts to keep her engaged. I asked her to join my executive team and this worked for a while, but she found it frustrating. She is not always respectful of colleagues. She does not really role-model our values. I have to manage my own behaviour to ensure Maya’s views carry due weight, but not too much. I can’t be seen to be beholden to the big-billers.

She believes she should be paid more. She does drive enormous value. But whilst her clients undoubtedly value her, they also value our brand and the broader infrastructure that sits behind her.

Maya (and other partners) have been vocal about the relative weakness of our brand, the lack of talent coming through, and our ‘appalling’ systems. We therefore invested significantly (but carefully) in our marketing, HR and IT functions – the very people she sometimes describes as ‘overheads’.

Maybe I am being unfairly critical of her. I like her a lot. She is wonderful company, an incredible talent, and a real asset for the firm. But I can feel we are reaching a cross-road. How do we keep her in the firm, whilst satisfying her and also remaining true to our values?

Do you think Maya should stay? Should the CEO flex to accommodate her, or hold the line? Should they meet half-way to provide what they both want?

Dilemmas like this are commonplace in professional service firms. For a confidential conversation on useful tips and solutions call Colin Mercer on 01625 508100 or email cmercer@wickland-westcott.com

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