By Alan Hancock
In my experience, it’s never really been the enjoyment of work that’s driven me out of bed in the morning because, for me, it’s only retail. However, what does drive me out of bed is my commitment to the team and my obligation to work as hard as they do. When thinking about what makes a working relationship great, this is what sprang to mind and especially with regards to the organic partnerships that we all form as a result of this. Back in March, I touched upon this subject in a piece about an inspirational colleague and how we collaborate. I want to revisit that idea and focus on how the principles of partnership can form the bedrock of a successful business.
Firstly, working alongside a colleague and establishing a business you co-own is clearly different. Relationships can be complicated and careful consideration must be given not only to your partner’s skill set but their personality, ethics and approach not to mention the stressful financial burden of starting a new venture. Even so, when researching what factors contribute towards a successful partnership, I was surprised to find many industry experts voicing caution and warning entrepreneurs of the dangers of working in partnership with somebody else especially friends and family. Statistics on the failure rate of new business partnerships ranged between 50% and 80% with most former partners giving relatively uniform reasons. Incompatible personalities, lack of communication, imbalance of effort and a differing vision were all universally stated and of course, any combination of these is always likely to affect an organisation’s ability to plan it’s future direction and reconcile differences. But, the foundation of any meaningful relationship, personal or professional, is mutual trust and respect. By clearly defining and agreeing your positions, your commitment to the venture and, importantly, your vision of success you can avoid some of these potential pitfalls.
In the face of this it might seem more attractive, maybe safer even, to go it alone but there is so much more to be gained than lost from partnership.
Consider the world of technology. Some legendary partnerships have given birth to some of the world’s largest, most profitable corporations which have subsequently revolutionised how we live and communicate globally. Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft; Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google and the partnership of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak gave us Apple. From humble beginnings, their collaboration and utilisation of a shared passion, grounded in friendship, saw the realisation of something amazing.
In a 2006 interview with the Seattle Times, Steve Wozniak spoke of his partnership with Jobs.
“I was just doing something I was very good at, and the thing that I was good at turned out to be the thing that changed the world. That wasn’t my plan. Steve was much more further thinking. When I designed good things, sometimes he’d say “we can sell this”. And we did. He was thinking about how you build a company, maybe even then he was thinking “how do you change the world?” He spoke like that”.
Closer to home, two of the UK’s oldest and biggest retailers also owe their prosperity to partnership.
Marks and Spencer, a quintessentially British institution was founded when Michael Marks, a market stall trader, went into partnership with Thomas Spencer. M&S established itself from two market stalls in Leeds and grew to become the first British retailer to post pre tax profits of over £1bn back in 1998. Even in today’s retail climate, M&S maintains 979 stores nationwide, employing 80,787 people and it’s reputation as a retailer of quality British goods is something that still underpins the ethos of the company to this day. All from the vision, co-operation and dedication of two men over 130 years ago.
John Lewis has built partnership into its business model and for them, it’s a huge source of pride. Within the much lauded John Lewis Partnership, every employee or “Partner” is considered a co-owner with their own democratic voice and share in the success of the business.
John Spedan Lewis, a retail radical in his day, signed away his ownership rights and established a trust along with a written constitution so that the profits could be shared amongst his employees. This year, as part of a multi million pound rebrand, the words “& Partners” were added to the names of both John Lewis and Waitrose to emphasise this unique aspect of their business.
The accompanying ad ends fittingly with the phrase “when you’re a part of it, you put your heart into it” which encapsulates the essence of what drives an effective partnership.
As stated on their website:
“Partners are at the heart of everything we do. Partners’ happiness, through worthwhile and satisfying employment in a successful business, is the very first sentence of the first principle in our written Constitution, which has endured for nearly a century.”
Personally, I enjoy drawing upon the energy and enthusiasm of my co-workers and I think it’s much more gratifying to share your success with another. When you can feel the passion, drive and commitment of your partners, it’s as engaging as it is infectious. It elevates the quality of your own work providing an immeasurable increase in job satisfaction. Even if it is just filling shelves.
I’m fortunate to work alongside some truly talented individuals and Lisa, my aforementioned colleague, is no exception. The working relationship we’ve established exemplifies what can be achieved when you respect each other’s strengths and understand each other’s limitations; when you communicate clearly and honestly and when you believe in the notion that the only way to succeed is by working together.
I’m sure you can think of at least one person who makes up your “Dream Team” and if you can’t, I urge you to find them because, after all, where would Ant be without Dec? Or Ben without Jerry? Would the Beatles have been as good without Lennon and McCartney? (Hint: no).
Whether it’s big business, one of the thriving independent partnerships found within Exeter or just you and your favourite colleague, partnership drives successful enterprise.