Facing Issues Between Partners

Business partnerships add another wrinkle to business exit and succession planning. As I have mentioned, personal goals play a large role in successful exit strategy. When there are multiple owners, each with their own set of needs, things get complicated.

Sages tell us that the only constant is change. My experience with ownership groups confirms this. When a group comes together and forms a business, it represents a collection of moments in time. Each individual has a set of desires, a set of capabilities and a level of personal commitment. As time goes forward these change affected by a host of influences both in and outside of the business. This change is gradual. Where all members of the group may have had a common goal or vision, after a period of time, there may be differences.

There is a curious code of honor among those who found businesses. They all remember the early years, the tough years and the sacrifices each member made for the business to succeed. As they find that they are drifting apart, they find it difficult to communicate to their partners about their new goals and commitment level. It is perceived that if one brought up these differences, it would be seen as a betrayal of the sacrifices made by the other.

As the differences grow, so does resentment. The issues which “cannot be discussed because they will hurt another’s feelings” start to dwell on the mind. The drift in goals, commitment and capabilities grows wider and wider. Finally an event occurs which brings the years of drift to a head. Rarely is it pleasant.

Next week I’ll share a case study that illustrates this point. Please share your own experiences working with business partners in the comments.

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