You know who John D. Rockefeller was. The oil magnate and philanthropist – generally considered to have been the wealthiest man of all time. But did you know that much of Rockefeller’s success was due to the ingenuity of one of his partners?
More on that later.
The popular image of the successful entrepreneur is that of a visionary risk-taker who defies the odds, ignores the warnings of authority, and acts on his own.
That’s not been my experience. Nor has it been the experience of the successful businesspeople I’ve known.
It’s not just me. Numerous surveys and studies suggest that the more typical profile is someone that treads a path already worn, limits his risk as much as he possibly can, and relies on others to achieve his goals.
Vision? Some have one. Some don’t. Some have several. The unifying trait – in my view – is flexibility. The ability to shape one’s vision to reality as it unfolds.
And yes, there’s luck.
Let’s talk today about just one of those myths: the idea of the lone wolf. The business hero that captain’s his own boat, consulting with no one, solving all the problems and coming up with all the innovations.
Again, IMHO, that’s a crock of poo.
Look behind every celebrated businessman, from Henry Ford to Bill Gates, and you will find not just one but several or even dozens of key players without whom the achievement would have been less or not at all.
As for me, I can’t think of a single accomplishment I’ve enjoyed in business (or in any other walk of life, for that matter) that was a solo effort. I’ve always relied on the courage and strength and intelligence of others.
And I don’t mean subordinates. I mean partners. Regardless of what titles they might have held, the men and women that I’ve worked with on successful enterprises have always played the role of partners.
I don’t believe I’m unusual in that regard. Many of the most successful business builders of the last hundred years had partners. And many of them attributed their success to the partnerships they had formed.
Partnerships work for a very simple reason: When it comes to conjuring up ideas and solving problems, two (or more) heads are almost always better than one. My head, for example, is good at spotting opportunities fairly early in the game and imagining crude marketing strategies. But it’s not so good at anticipating the obstacles in front of those opportunities or in refining those crude strategies into working plans. In my early years, I was foolish and didn’t recognise my deficiencies. But experience knocked me down enough to make me realise I was much better off working (or even leading) as part of a team.
That’s how partnerships are supposed to work: a division of labour, starting at the top. After all, none of us can claim to have all the requirements of the perfect businessperson. We all have shortcomings and foibles. Without a partner to spur you on or rein you in, you would miss valuable opportunities or make costly mistakes.
Aside from allowing for an efficient division of labour, partnering provides you with someone (or several people) with whom to brainstorm and vent to. Someone (or several people) with whom to confide in and – just as important – to share the enjoyment of success.
During most of my career, I was involved in more than a dozen partnership relationships at any given time. In every case, my partners and I had different strengths and weaknesses that resulted in different roles. In some cases, I provided the initial idea and the capital. In other cases, I provided the marketing know-how or acted as a consultant, warning my partners against mistakes I had previously made.
Just to give you a quick idea:
With RP, I had a longstanding interest in several commercial real estate projects. He tended to be the worrywart and cost cutter. I was the optimist that talked him into deals he feared.
With FJ, another partner in real estate, I played the cautious role, helping him see the sense in getting out of the game in 2007 before the market crashed. (And in getting back in again in 2010.)
With SB, I had an interest in an advertising agency. When the business was young, I provided capital and mentoring. As it matured, he ran the business better than I ever could have. I provided some value in being his sounding board. We enjoyed a profitable relationship for more than a decade. He did most of the hard work.
With SA and GD, I had an interest in a manufacturing company. I provided them with initial business strategy and introduced them to key players (partners, really). They did the rest.
With YK, MD, MR, and HP, I have a career training company. I provided the initial game plan and structured the curriculum. MD and HP do the marketing. YK and MR run the business.
With BB, I have an interest in a large publishing business. He focuses on the quality of the published ideas. I focus on the quality of the marketing efforts.
With SS I have an interest in a commercial art dealership. She found us two partners that tripled the business and increased revenues threefold.
I couldn’t possibly have been involved in all these businesses if it were not for my partners. In fact, I doubt I could have succeeded in any one of them working alone.
I’m aware that if you believe what you read about business achievements, you are likely to believe that my experience is the exception, that there are countless examples of entrepreneurs that achieved greatness on their own.
But if you study the biographies of these people – from Henry Ford to Warren Buffett – you will find that even if they were never called partners, they all relied on people of equal or greater talent, intelligence, and determination to succeed.
It’s natural to want to believe in the myth of the lone hero. But you’ll do much better in your career if you take a humbler view.
Oh… I almost forgot. Rockefeller’s brilliant partner? It was Henry Flagler, a man who (after retiring from Standard Oil) went on to basically create the modern state of Florida.
Dreams Deferred? Get a Partner!
Before he died, I promised Mike I’d make a movie about our days in the bar business. I kept that promise locked away in a broom closet of my memory for 30 years. I was busy with a family and career. I had other projects on my to-do list. And I knew nothing about making a movie.
Then it hit me: Get partners. Steve and I wrote (and rewrote) the script. Damian directed it. Colin did the cinematography. Many partners later, the movie was wrapped.
The obvious lesson: If you have something you’ve been wanting to do for many years and fear it may never get done, consider getting a partner.
You can find out more about my my other ‘living rich’ ideas in my new Weath Builders Club, click here to find out more.
Notes From My Journal
I’ve mentioned that I’ve been looking at past entries in my journal lately. This morning I found a memo dating back more than a decade. It’s from one of my partners about the value of partnership – and the inspiration for today’s essay…
What struck me as interesting this week was a simple insight: You can make a lot more progress when you have someone to talk to.
M has spent the last 6 weeks in London. As usual, I was coming and going. But when I was in the office, I had someone to talk to who has about the same level of experience as I have… and who faces more or less the same sort of problems. While I was out of the office, M studied the problems and came up with a number of good solutions.
Now you might think that after working together for the last 15 years, we’d know each other’s tricks. But we each have our own way of seeing things. I had been looking at them with only mine own eyes. As a result, the projects I had been working on had progressed… but only as far as I could see to take them. M came in with a fresh pair of peepers. He brought a new perspective. We were able to push things forward much better than I could do on my own.
Today’s Word: ineluctable (adjective)
Ineluctable (ih-nuh-LUK-tuh-bul) means inescapable. As used by journalist Theodore Kupfer in a National Review article titled “Will Football Survive?”: “Selection bias might partially explain the high incidence, but head injuries are an ineluctable part of football….”