Sue McPartlin’s recruiting the best of the best at PwC Cincinnati & retaining a multi-generational workforce

The average age of Sue McPartlin’s counterparts at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP is 27. That’s roughly equivalent to the number of years she’s been at the Big Four accounting firm. There’s one thing those years of experience at the firm has given her — knowledge — and she’s very proud to share that knowledge with the company’s millennial employees who already make up more than 50 percent of PwC.

 “I’ve been here longer than most of our newer hires have been alive,” says McPartlin, who became market managing partner of PwC’s Cincinnati office in 2011. “Because such a large percentage of our employees are millennials, we can’t survive in business if we don’t attract and retain that talent.”

PwC Cincinnati has 210 employees and McPartlin leads an office that is responsible for the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana region. Since becoming market managing partner two years ago, she has had the growing challenge of leading a multi-generational workforce while also having to compete for the best and brightest talent coming out of college against the likes of EY, KPMG and Deloitte.

“One of our biggest challenges is the competition for talent and developing and retaining that talent,” McPartlin says. “We don’t make any kind of product; we sell services. Our people are our product. It has become fiercely competitive on campuses, as well as for experienced hires. It’s just a different caliber of young talent that we’re seeing these days.”

In a firm the size of PwC, there are numerous opportunities offered to employees who put forth the effort.

Here’s how McPartlin is passing along knowledge to the younger talent at PwC Cincinnati, while also working to retain a multi-generational workforce.

Recruit the best and brightest

On many of today’s college campuses, the competition for a job following graduation has become fiercer than in years past. The competition to attract that talent has also increased for businesses, especially among the Big Four accounting firms.

“It becomes very challenging to recruit and to ultimately retain strong talent,” McPartlin says. “We as a firm just did a global study called a NexGen study looking at millennials vs. non-millennials. We’ve been focused on it for quite a while, recognizing that the next generation of younger employees have different expectations and want different things.”

Those differences in wants and expectations add to that challenge as well. PwC has to make sure it stays current with what younger generations are looking for out of their employer.

“We have to make sure that people who have been around a while, like myself, don’t get embedded in how we grew up in the firm and how things were then,” McPartlin says. “Most of the younger generation doesn’t think they will work for one company their whole career, no matter who it is.”

PwC has always had direct competition for talent among the other Big Four accounting firms, but today the options available to candidates coming out of college are much more than five or 10 years ago.

“That adds to the competitiveness,” she says. “On the other side we have to match our needs and culture with how people want to work today.”

PwC has been around for more than 120 years, so it is imperative that it makes adjustments to be more attractive to the ever-changing workforce coming out of college.

“We’ve been on that journey now for a number of years, and we’re having a lot of success with it,” she says. “You have to stay on top of it, but who knows what expectations of people will be like five years from now. It’s both the true competition with other companies and firms, and the competition to grab the attention of these folks and get them to want to stay and be here.”

The recruiting process starts with getting out to college campuses and getting to know the potential talent you’ll be recruiting.

“It’s about getting to know people on a personal level so potential hires know from a people perspective what they’re getting into,” McPartlin says. “It’s also helpful to have people understand what the culture of your organization is like. That’s really important, and we see that in internal surveys we do of our people, and external data validates that the fit with a culture is really important to people.”

Retain your talent

Within most companies today, workforces are very diverse and expect different things from their employers. No longer does a one-size-fits-all solution keep people happy.

“Our expectation from our people is adaptability and flexibility on their side, but also on the PwC side, and not treating everyone exactly the same,” McPartlin says.

With workforces becoming more unique than ever before, companies have to get creative to retain talent and offer things others don’t, or do a better job offering similar things. PwC focuses on training and development of its employees.

“We offer a lot to our employees in terms of formal training and development,” she says. “Our folks consistently tell us that they think our learning and development is very strong in helping them prepare to do their work. We also offer on-the-job training.”

PwC also puts emphasis on working in team environments, no matter what the work is or in what department.

“You’re always learning from somebody who is a bit more experienced than you,” she says. “Our team members get a variety of clients, which keeps things interesting and they can learn from people with different experiences than they have.

“When we ask people about what they like best about the firm and what keeps them here, they consistently say the people and the ability to team with people and learn from them. That’s one of the key drivers in terms of retention.”

Aside from teamwork, flexibility is another aspect of today’s work environment that younger generations expect to have. Work/life balance plays a bigger role today than it ever has.

“I don’t like the term work/life balance because that implies that it’s always in balance,” McPartlin says. “I view it as scale. Sometimes work takes precedent and sometimes life takes precedent.

“Don’t just focus on that one day that you had to work a lot and didn’t get to spend as much time at home as you wanted. You have to look at flexibility from the bigger picture.”

In a workforce like PwC’s, not everyone is looking for the same things.

“It’s not so much that millennials want different things in a job versus non-millennials, but rather rank those needs in different degrees of importance,” she says. “We’re recognizing that we need to change and adapt to these things.”

Provide opportunity

Everyone probably can agree on, no matter what generation they’re in, that having different opportunities provided to you is important and desired.

“With a firm of our size and the variety of things that we do from a client service perspective, as well as a lot of the things we need to do to run the firm from an internal perspective, there’s a lot of opportunities out there,” McPartlin says. “I’ve had folks who are on the assurance staff, but move into marketing and sales, and then come back to assurance. Some folks move permanently into those roles because they were able to try something different.”

The other point McPartlin and PwC emphasize to employees is encouraging them to step out of their comfort zones.

“They have to know that the leadership and the partner group will support them in doing that,” she says. “When most people have any angst about moving on to a different role or department, they want to know they’ll be supported.”

The third thing that builds goodwill with employees is making sure they are offered opportunities even if they don’t take them.

“That lets them know that you think highly enough of them that you want to offer them that next role and next opportunity. That’s really important,” she says.


  • Understand the talent currently coming out of college.
  • Offer benefits that will attract millennials and retain current employees.
  • Provide opportunities to your workforce to drive retention.

The McPartlin File

Name: Sue McPartlin
Title: Market managing partner
Company: PricewaterhouseCoopers Cincinnati office

Born: Mount Clemens, Mich.

Education: Attended Walsh College and received a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? I ran a 20-ton plastic injection molding press. I worked in a factory all summer long making plastic car parts and refrigerator parts. It was really hard working in a factory and it was really hot because you were working with plastic and injection molding. It was good money as a college student, but it made me realize this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that I wanted to finish college and get my education.

Who do you admire in the business world? There are a number of client company executives that I have looked up to over the years. I also just read the book, “American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company.” Based on that book, Alan Mulally is obviously a very inspirational leader.

What are you excited about at PwC? Specific to Cincinnati, I think we have a lot of future growth opportunities here. That excites me as the leader of this marketplace. From a broader perspective, we are very focused on delivering the best both to our people and to our clients, and I see that as being impactful and exciting.