Making Managing Director is in part an art, and definitely not a science. There is no set formula for achieving this status, and each firm will have its own dynamics in terms of when someone becomes eligible, what it takes, and indeed what it means to be a Managing Director. That said, there are clearly some universal aspects to focus on for those who aspire to the top rung.

Are you Managing Director material?

In many ways, the question of what constitutes “MD material” reminds me of US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography: while it is difficult to define, “I know it when I see it.” The reason it is not easy to generalise is that not all MDs are the same (thank goodness), and it is about the quality of your whole package and what it delivers. The only way to really know is to ask your boss and mentors for feedback specific to you and your organisation. However, in my experience most, if not all, successful MD candidates possess three core qualities:

1.  Commercial Impact:

This is about delivering business and pulling more than your own weight. It is about producing commercial results for the firm in a responsible and sustainable way. Whether your business is about winning a select number of elephant deals each year, generating a vast number of flow transactions that gain market position, or providing incisive research insights, you need to be seen as best in class. Be a “rainmaker” along the dimensions in which your group is measured. Do you deliver results, and in the best possible way

2.  Leadership:

During promotion discussions, the leadership dimension is always important. Committee members look for people who can build a franchise — someone who drives a business forward and leads it to new heights. You need to have earned the respect of juniors, peers and senior managers, and be credible externally as well. Are you someone who can be trusted to lead a franchise and represent the firm at the highest level?

3.  Partnership Behaviour:

MDs have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. In the old days, it was literally about bringing someone into the inner sanctum of the partnership, and in many ways, things have not changed all that much.

Today, promotion committee participants are charged with asking the tough questions: Do we trust this individual to do the right thing? Is this someone we would want to march into battle alongside us? Will you be a constructive force, helping to drive the whole firm forward? Can you see the strategic value of other business areas even when it is against your parochial interests? Do you think of the long-term when making business decisions?

I remember the year when a star trader was put up for promotion with fabulous production numbers. Despite the fear that he would go elsewhere if we failed to promote him on the early track – the promotion group held fast to the ideal that an MD must act in the interests of the firm as a whole, and not just to favour his or her own P&L. Fortunately, he got the message and grew up into a fine MD – but it was not until he demonstrated greater maturity.