That’s what partners are for…
Two years ago this week my good friend and business partner of 40 years passed away from cancer. Time has softened the pain, but the sense of loss is still there.
While I generally recommend against partners, our partnership worked very well. We often mused about why it worked, when we had seen so many others fail.
Were we just lucky, or was there more?
Upon reflection, here are seven reasons:
(1) Respect – Neither of us tried to “boss” the other – it was a partnership of equals. We respected opinions, even when they were different. We checked our egos at the door.
We recognized the old saying, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is redundant.”
(2) Maturity – We were both in our 40s when we went into full-time consulting. We had achieved a level of business maturity. Not saying you can’t consult at a younger age, but a few gray hairs (or even no hair) can actually make age a friend.
As the late Howard Shenson said, “The forties are a good time to start consulting. By that time, you know what you are good at and like, and what you are poor at and don’t like. The secret is to focus on former, and ignore the latter.”
(3) Experience – We both brought unique experiences to the firm. Although we were both Electrical Engineers with similar technical experiences, Bill had management experience and I had sales/marketing experience.
As such we complemented each other in those two critical areas. Over the years, we both learned a LOT from each other as well.
(4) Honesty – Having both been burned by unscrupulous colleagues in the past, we pledged never to do that to each other. Nor to our clients. Integrity matters.
We followed the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
(5) Longevity – For ten years, we worked together part time. So by the time we went full time, we already knew we worked well together.
We knew each other’s strengths, so we could take advantage of them. We also knew each others jokes 🙂
(6) Humor – Very important, we shared a sense humor. Often mildly cynical, neither of us took things too seriously. We joked and laughed a lot — even after the occasional disaster.
Our wives would often shake their heads as we rehashed some of those disasters.
(7) Support – On more than one occasion, we backed each other up – with very little notice.
When Bill lost his voice midway through a class, I was on a flight that night to rescue him. When my mother-in-law had a stroke, he jumped in and rescued me.
No apologies were ever needed. As Bill was fond of saying, “That’s what partners are for…”
So what final advice can I offer on partners? Proceed VERY carefully — I’ve seen too many cases turn into disasters. Use the seven reasons above as a checklist.
But I’ve also seen successes. My attorneys, my accountant, my financial advisor, and my doctor are in small practices and enjoy the camaraderie and support of congenial partners.
Like a good marriage, if you can make a partnership work, it can be wonderful. But like a bad marriage, the disasters can be devastating.
P.S. With Bill’s loss, I decided to cut back on the consulting. His passing was a grim reminder that life is not infinite. But I have great memories with my business partner, and would not trade them for anything.
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