(I will confess that I "read" this work as an audiobook and was not able to take great notes on it. Most of the information below is from the best of my memory, and where it's sparse, it's all my fault; the actual text has a lot of great stories and details that left an impression on me but which I can't perfectly recall.)
- Michael Eisner and Frank Wells: This is the team that led Disney through numerous acquisitions and helped it grow when it was struggling. There are several things that I remember about this pairing.
First, the author worked to defeat the notion that one of them was the "emotional" guy and one was the "brains;" or one the "idea" guy and the other "execution." People like to put such labels on partners in order to feel like they understand something much more complex than they really do. Eisner recounts how in fact the two of them would constantly switch roles and work to question and support each other in different ways.
Second, I found it remarkable how close the two partners got and how good of friends they and their families became. There is always the tension between doing business with friends and keeping friends away from business; it was neat to hear a story of how two people and families could really grow close through a successful partnership.
- Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger: This is the second time that I've had the pleasure of reading about this partnership; the first time was in Buffett's biography, The Snowball.
The point I remember most about this partnership was the different roles the two people played and how their own philosophies meshed and complemented each other's. It was clear that a lot of what helped the partnership succeed was the joy that each man got from talking to the other about business and investing; they would talk for hours and not need anything or anyone else to keep them entertained.
In addition, the two had somewhat different styles towards thinking of new opportunities, but in the end, they gave in to each other equally out of pure trust and respect. Buffett would always fight to convince Munger of why they should invest in something, and Munger would always be suspicious and think of reasons why not to invest. In the end, depending on who cared more and who had more evidence and information, the partners would go one way or the other, with equal distribution over time. They trusted each other and worked to support each other because of their partnership and mutual respect. This was a key lesson for me; I think it's critical for partners to let the other side have their way with equal frequency so that both people are valued and respected. Otherwise, if one is always "right" and "winning," the partnership dynamic soon fades.
- Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer: The story of Gates and Allen founding Microsoft demonstrates how partnerships can grow and thrive based on two people's love of the same field and common goal. The way the two founders concentrated so intensely to build their company and the strategies and techniques each brought to the table made the company a success.
It was equally interesting to hear the story of the transition to Steve Ballmer. I enjoyed hearing about the tenuous and difficult process that at many times did not work effectively and needed multiple iterations and both people coming to terms with each other to eventually find its groove. It became crystal clear to me how difficult planning for succession and actually managing it can be. In addition, giving up "control" and trusting someone else to nurture your "baby" can be a very stressful and unnerving process.
- Bill and Melinda Gates: This was a unique partnership in that it combined elements of personal and business relationships.
On a personal level, I enjoyed hearing about how Bill and Melinda met and how their marriage grew. It was neat to hear about the daily walks they took and how those actually turned out to be their most productive times in brainstorming for their foundation work. It was also very interesting how Bill let Melinda take as much ownership and command of the foundation work as she wanted, including her on everything and finding a way to be true equals in marriage and in business.
On a business level, I was impressed when I learned about Melinda's leadership abilities and how involved she is in international policy meetings and getting the foundation's research and initiatives really enacted out in the world. It is clear that she is behind Bill in all of the world matters that he is deeply passionate to solve, and it is clear that he supports her in the ways she goes about working to solve those problems.
- Brian Grazer and Ron Howard: This entertainment duo was formed when Grazer called Howard to meet him out of the blue one day. Grazer had a custom of calling a new person every day during his lunch break, and he had always wanted to meet Howard. Since that day, they have worked on numerous films together and have helped build a strong brand for their partnership. The two partners worked on different coasts of the US, but despite that, they grew their relationship very closely and collaborated on almost every detail of their work together. In addition to their trust, it was clear that each man worked hard to learn from the other throughout their relationship.
- Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti: Everyone has heard of Valentino, the famous Italian clothing designer, but very few have heard of his sidekick, Giammetti. Valentino was a struggling designer in Rome, having great creative flair but lacking business abilities. Giammetti quickly became his full-service business partner so that Valentino could concentrate fully on his fashion design. This was, unlike Eisner/Wells, a conceptual split of duties/specialization that worked.
What was key to this partnership was Giammetti's willingness to let all the spotlight be on Valentino. WIthout this, they would have failed. Every piece of the business was controlled by Giammetti, and he had an enormous influence on the brand's growth and distribution. However, he not once ever wanted the fame and worked to make sure that Valentino received all of it. In an emotional moment, when Valentino was receiving a prominent award for this lifelong work, he thanked Giammetti publicly and explained how he could not have done it without him. Giammetti's combined humility and ferocious resolve to succeed and lead the business allowed the partnership to thrive.
- Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager: This is the duo famous for opening Studio 54, the world's most famous nightclub, and thereafter a successful group of boutique hotels. The two worked fiercely to come up with strategies that were completely unheard-of at the time in promoting their new club, such as celebrity endorsements and extremely selective criteria for getting in through the line outside (practices followed to this day at most clubs that want to be "exclusive").
In this partnership like in Valentino/Giammetti, the two men had their own "specialties" and helped in different ways. Schrager was the business guy, coming in early, working on the books, managing the staff, and leaving early. Rubell was the vibrant figurehead, standing outside in line (picking people worthy to get in), promoting the place through celebrities, and partying hard each night (starting late and ending late). I was impressed to see such a gap between the roles and responsibilities of the two partners, and I was happy to see that it could work. The two men apparently loved working together on their venture and had full trust in each other's abilities.
- Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus: I had never really heard the story of the founding of Home Depot until I read about Blank and Marcus, its founders. The two took a big leap of faith in believing they could start a business with a completely different model than any other home improvement store in the country. The two brought different past experiences to the table, having worked across different parts of business and the home improvement industry, and they worked closely together in navigating the path of the business through its many cycles and growth segments. They needed to constantly adapt and reinvent their model, training their staff and conveying their own attitudes and culture of service and focus on quality.
They are apparently still involved, and the current management always appreciates their insights and perspective (which is different from the way many successors end up acting).
- Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken: This pair of famous female chefs proves that sometimes you can get away with more than one cook in the kitchen. The two chefs each independently blazed their trail into the world of professional cuisine, a world dominated by men and not very tolerant of female entrants. Through begging and nagging and lots of hard work and discipline, each got their break and happened to meet when working as the only two women in a top restaurant. They decided to start their own restaurant together and worked on every aspect of it together (absolutely no separation of duties), and it ended up working well for them. They would joke how they would consult each other on everything, and it increased their trust in each other and made each feel included. They even shared the same man as a husband (at different times); one of them married the other's ex-husband, to whom she is still married to this day.
The interesting part, though, came at the end when I learned that now one of them is starting a restaurant on her own to learn about how that can work for her. However, there is no dissidence between them, and they both still work together and help each other often. It is apparently through a successful, equal partnership that a person can grow the confidence to be able to work on his or her own.
- Joe Torre and Don Zimmer: I confess I'm not up to snuff on my baseball trivia, but I enjoyed hearing the story of these two gentlemen who led the Yankees to win four World Series championships. Torre was the main coach, but he called on Zimmer, who had had vast experience coaching and running team to be his sidekick. Instead of focusing on superiority and chain of command, Torre would consult with Zimmer on every play and would realize quickly that Zimmer had a wise, seasoned point of view that helped the team succeed and get out of sticky situations in clever ways (like picking the right player or the right play). When Zimmer was gone, Torre would ask himself, "What would Zimmer do?"
It was interesting to hear about this dynamic. Zimmer knew that Torre was the boss, but he always got his opinion out there and didn't care if it made Torre mad. Torre, on the other hand, was interested to hear Zimmer's opinion, even if it didn't always match his, and both were totally alright with that. Torre also knew that even if he didn't want Zimmer's opinion, Zimmer would give it to him anyways, so he didn't have much of a choice. I enjoyed hearing about the dynamic of the superior learning from the assistant and both helping each other for the good of the team.
- John Angelo and Michael Gordon: This partnership was somewhat of an interesting blend of the others, including many elements of the other pairings. Angelo and Gordon had worked together in the world of finance and investment management for a while, and their families had been close friends for many generations (and still are). On the one hand, they were very similar in their goals and interests, but on the other hand, they had different personalities and were able to bring complementary skills to the table when starting their own firm. Angelo was outspoken and charismatic, coming up with new ideas (like leverage) and deals, while Gordon sat in his seat all day and was careful and methodical and helped the firm stay conservative (fighting the concept of leverage) and not take on the same foolhardy risks that the rest of Wall Street was taking (and eventually going to get wiped out because of).
I enjoyed the book greatly, both from the perspective of partnership and also from the perspective of entrepreneurship. It was fascinating to hear the stories of such a diversity of businesses being started up, and similarly, such a diversity of people working together. I realized the key in all of these partnerships were the following commonalities:
- Immense respect, trust, and friendship
- An urge toward equality and giving in to each other
- A clear overlap of goals, interests, and/or background
- A clear non-overlap in skills, responsibilities, and/or perspectives
The combination of matching and non-matching elements, when present in an environment of trust and respect, can lead to some pretty remarkable results.
Eisner concluded the book with some thoughts on why to even be in partnership and how to set them up. He said that in the end, what makes life truly worth living is sharing experiences with other people. This is the core reason at the end of the day to have partners. He says that if partnerships have failed for you in the past, the problem is not with partnership in general, and so you should keep trying new partnerships until you find some that work. I personally think that for some people or in some situations, full equal partnerships might not be the best. But no matter what the actual situation, treating your peers as partners with full respect, trust, and support always does.
In addition, he cautions against using pre-nuptial agreements or buy-sell agreements in businesses (contracts that aim to plan for the partnership dissolving). He says they are unproductive and cause more hurt than good. He preaches that people should work things out, and if they can't, to part ways. I personally think this is a valiant notion, but often times the complexities and logistics with figuring out how to part ways once there is trouble can be much worse than planning for it when times are good. I really think it depends on the type of personalities of the partners; if they are both level-headed, rational, and can think about the issues at arm's length in the beginning when setting up a fair agreement, it will not do much harm and can prevent problems down the line.