The Partnership Roller-coaster

James Kouzinas James Kouzinas
Blog | March 25, 2019

During a podcast with Tim Ferriss, Howard Marks was discussing his 31-year partnership with Bruce Karsh. 31 years in partnership is a monumental effort considering many marriages do not have the luxury of this marathon. Howard attributed the success of the partnership to never having an argument, the two simply had intellectual disagreements. This concept is counter to the emotional arguments that plague many workplaces.  

“When we dare to create conflict, we enable ourselves and the people around us to do the best thinking.” – Dr. Alice Stewart

Just over a year ago, I spontaneously found myself in business with two gentlemen that I‘m humbled too work alongside. A partnership is not to dissimilar to that of a marriage, some days you love each other, and other days are another story. It took me some time, though eventually I discovered that my business partners dysfunctions were right next to their genius. This was an extremely valuable lesson, ego’s and unconscious biases tend to lead us to believe that the people we encounter need to operate inside the boxes we naturally place them in.

“It is difficult to get someone to understand something, when their salary depends on them not understanding it.” – Upton Sinclair.

This concept becomes extremely interesting for business owners, we tend to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to being dynamic in our approach. If we tie ourselves up in anything, we can’t tolerate criticism of it. It’s important to remember that you’re always running two businesses; the one you’re in and more importantly the one you’re going to be in. I take my hat off to sole operators, I have had the pleasure of working with two of the most patient sounding boards in the world. Intellectual disagreements are one of the most effective ways to avoid paying the dumb tax.

“The riskiest moment is when you believe you’re right”. – Peter Bernstein

As mentioned above, the key to staying in partnership is ensuring debates never get emotional. It is vital to first seek clarity from within and aim to paint the picture from the other parties’ perspective. Take the time to go back to your corner, deeply reflect, only then come back and flesh the problem out intellectually. In my opinion Amara’s law is the killer, business partners tend to overestimate their success in the short term and under estimate their success in the long term. Many forget that it is much harder to create than to destroy. Those who are not in the game for the long run will grow impatient, hungry and greedy.

“Gratitude is the solution to anger and fear” – Tony Robbins.

The partners you entrust need to be great leaders, ideally having ambition for something bigger than themselves. Aim to hunt out partners who are commercial; these individuals will balance aggression with humility and integrity. The individual’s commercial nature is ideally underpinned with transparency, communication and trust. In order to operate in unison, it is crucial that you intrinsically understand each other emotionally and biologically. Confirmation bias will lead you to naturally seek partners who are like you. The key to is to seek out partners with opposing talents who will consistently challenge you.

“We have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking, and different experiences, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.” – Dr Alice Stewart

Set your own standards, operate ethically and always add more value than you take. This is a mindset that will ultimately open many doors and will set you, your partners and the business down a path of success. The question for all partners should never be how do we become successful? The question is how do we be useful?


Book Recommendation

  • Keith Cunningham’s ‘The Road Less Stupid’ for more information on the ‘dumb tax’.


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