If business partnerships are marriages then I’m a serial divorcee. I’ve rushed into relationships; taking on staff, clients and sometimes business partners, only to move on when things didn’t work. Broken partnerships are always disastrous. Why couldn’t I make these vital relationships work? Was it me or did I choose the wrong people? The question has frustrated me throughout my career. But in 2016 I found the answer.
Years ago, I took on a business partner in my music company. A colleague introduced Ben to me: we hit it off immediately and seemed to have complementary skills. We’d only met a handful of times and I suggested we form a company. It didn’t take long for cracks to appear. I’d stay back late putting together proposals and budgets while he took off to the beach in the afternoon to surf. I felt his work wasn’t of the same quality as mine, so one by one I took over his tasks.
The relationship must come first, even in a business.
We both became irritated. I felt I couldn’t rely on Ben to get things done and he was disempowered and miserable. He started complaining, loudly. He labelled me a control freak. I said he was lazy. Our staff, artists and music industry colleagues didn’t know who to believe.
I’ve since learnt that this pattern is common and in my circle of friends I’ve encountered more broken business partnerships than broken marriages. Everyone starts out with the best of intentions and enjoys the camaraderie of a partner when things are going well. But when the business hits inevitable glitches, people don’t stick together. Both grumble about the other; both are certain they are right. The partners enter a spiral of doom that’s usually fatal to the business. I was determined to avoid this mistake again, so I looked for answers. Why do so many business partnerships fail?
Last winter, I went through the most intense personal development experience imaginable: I became a parent. I learnt new dimensions of patience, empathy and love. But my most valuable lesson was about relationships. I met my life partner, Rod, in 2014. After spending lots of time falling in love, holidaying together and living together, we decided to start a family. We rarely disagree but when we do, I know how to prioritise. Rod and his happiness come first. He does the same for me. Our relationship works. Business partnerships are more complicated: is the top priority the relationship or the business? When Ben and I clashed, I chose the business. It seemed like a rational decision and the right decision. I was wrong.
Becoming parents has parallels with launching a company. For the first time we had a “project” to manage. Three days after our baby daughter entered the world – screaming – Rod wanted to give her a dummy. This was our first conflict as parents. Other differences in opinions arose; how strictly should we stick to a sleep schedule? When does she need a sun hat? Does the baby food really have to be organic? I naturally wanted my agenda to win.
But as small conflicts piled into arguments I found myself asking a familiar question. What should take priority – the project (parenting) or the relationship? The answer was obvious: the relationship must come first. We couldn’t be successful parents if we didn’t work together – even if one person changed nappies in the middle of the night more often than the other. It didn’t matter. Unwavering love, commitment and a willingness to compromise is fundamental to raising a happy, well-adjusted child.
Three rules for a successful relationship
Next time I form a business partnership I’ll apply the same rules:
1. Take time for romance
Most longstanding successful partnerships are between people who’ve known each other for a long time. I wouldn’t get married after a few dates but I formed a company with someone I’d only met a few times. Next time, we’ll make the effort to learn how the other works before we commit.
2. Respect is essential
Ben and I blamed each other when things went wrong. I was so preoccupied in proving that I was right that I didn’t see the damage I was causing. If I could rewind time, I’d put my respect and commitment to Ben above all else.
3. Partnerships are forever
When I started a family with Rod, I committed to the relationship forever. Starting a company with staff and clients is a commitment for the life of the business.