NEW YORK -- It sounds almost cliched: A business partnership is like a marriage.
But sometimes the old saws really do hold some truth, and people with successful business partnerships say the qualities found in a good marriage also help a partnership work -- the right chemistry, shared values and goals and a willingness to compromise.
Barbara Goldberg acknowledges that she and Jim O'Connell seem like unlikely partners. Look at their ages -- she's 37 and he's 54. But their Hollywood, Fla.-based firm, O'Connell & Goldberg Public Relations, has lasted 10 years, she says, because "the core basic values are there. We share values of ethics and trust."
The partners complement one another, Goldberg said, explaining, "My partner can do things that I cannot do and vice versa, and we respect the talents that each of us can offer."
When they disagree, "it's like a marriage. It's knowing which battles to pick, and you have to be willing to compromise," Goldberg said.
Brian Edwards also sees his partnership with Jeff Lambert as being like a marriage. "You learn to play off of each other and recognize what the other person's going through and feeling and thinking and step back and play the other role."
"When I would be getting intense or emotional ... he'd be very calm and analytical and bring a lot of clarity to our discussions," said Edwards, a principal with Lambert, Edwards & Associates Inc., a public and investor relations firm in Grand Rapids, Mich. "When he'd be getting kind of emotional, I'd recognize it and say, 'I need to stay calm."'
Many partnerships work because there is a clearly defined division of responsibility. At FMS Bonds Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla.-based municipal bond firm, partner James Klotz focuses on managing the 120-employee firm, while Paul Finesilver oversees the buying and selling of bonds.
"That's the reason it's worked out so well," said Klotz, noting that he and Finesilver have been in business for 25 years. But it took some struggles for the partners to get to the business structure that works well.
"Each thought he could do other's job better," Klotz said. "When the realization struck us, and we started earning some respect for each other and each other's ability, we gravitated to departmentalizing."
Partners inevitably learn that how well they can work together in a crisis or when there's a difference of opinion will either solidify or break the relationship.
Gary Hanick and Ben Abrams, partners for more than 20 years, are the owners of Naturemakers, a San Diego-based company that creates artificial trees for big hotel-casinos, museums and other indoor spaces.
About eight years ago, the company was approached to make a tree that stood five stories tall, a much bigger feat of engineering than it had taken on before. Hanick said the fact that he and Abrams have a personal as well as business relationship didn't stop them from having differences about the project.
"There was a lot of back and forth," Hanick said. "We had to bring the art to another sphere. ... We really had to bring in a whole other group of experts."
They finally agreed to do the project, making their company more successful.
It was a different story for consultant Denise O'Berry.
"We were on two different planes and didn't realize it," said O'Berry, owner of Tampa, Fla.-based The Small Business Edge Corp., a consulting firm. "There was always some kind of gap. My partner wanted to focus on large corporate consulting activities and my idea of our market was much smaller businesses than that."
O'Berry said she and her partner thought at the beginning that they were doing it right.
"We went through a lot of stuff that's recommended that small businesses do as they start up, but we missed a lot of stuff too," she said.
Sometimes partners start out in sync, and then grow apart in their visions for the business.
"We wanted to go in different directions with what we were doing, and that was the killer," said Jill Whelan, whose Ashland, Mass.-based current business, High Rankings, helps companies with their listings on Internet search engines.
"I had ideas of things I wanted to write or do, and she said, 'No we can't do that.' We were going back and forth, and it started to become a control issue."
Partners can also find they have to weather personal crises.
"You have to make room for the other person's stuff to make the partnership work," Edwards said.
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