I was privileged to be a part of something that doesn't happen all that often these days. In mid-July, my brother and I, as well as both our families, hosted a party to celebrate our mother and father's 60th wedding anniversary. Their love and dedication to each other wasn't something that just happened. It was something that they actively worked at, prayed about, and made a priority their entire life together. Working with our father for over 30 plus years in the HVAC business, he made it a point almost daily to remind us that the meaning of life is never found in the business we build or the wealth we accumulate—but rather, in the relationships we have with God, our family and our friends.
He did not give this belief only lip service—he practiced it daily. Both my brother and I worked as technicians in the business before and while going to college. When we graduated, he offered us a part of the business. Against the advice of his accountant, he gave both Dan and I equal shares of ownership. When the accountant told him that's not how it's done, he replied, “If my sons want to cheat me—I'd rather know it now than later.” His faith and complete trust in us did more to drive us to grow the business and give us a sense of responsibility than had he followed the accountant's advice and ‘dangled it like a carrot in front of a horse' to motivate us to work hard for him. He took the risk because he felt his relationship with us was worth more than the business he had built.
It was this same understanding of the importance of relationships that shaped our partnership over the last 30 years, making it successful as well as a joy to be a part of. As anyone who has ever been in a partnership knows, they can be the most fragile things in business. There are two things my father taught Dan and I that are a big part of why our partnership has been so strong for so many years. They are about the internal and external forces that can ruin a partnership by ruining the relationships. The two things were mutual respect and keeping score—both of which are not really taught in any business school.
In fact, my father's first rule of ‘mutual respect' goes against the primary rule of partnerships taught today that says the worst partnerships are ones where no partner has enough shares to make a decision
. The thought behind this is that, in an equal partnership, decisions can't be made easily or quickly. The problem with this theory is that the owner with the most shares, or the one who can convince enough of the votes to side with him, ends up dragging the remaining partner(s) into decisions with which they don't agree or with which they are uncomfortable. Do this enough times and your minority partners end up hating you and soon just want out.
The biggest problem with this approach is that it diminishes the reason to be in a partnership, which is to accomplish more by having others working on the business and as committed to it as you are. My father knew that the strength of a partnership is built on the relationship between the partners. Because of this, his philosophy was that we didn't make any major decision, unless we all agreed on it. His logic was that if what one of us wanted to do was so ‘obviously' the right decision, the others would recognize it as well. If they didn't, my father taught us that the problem was that you either missed something or you didn't present your idea in a way that it was the ‘obvious right choice' that you thought it was.
Since, at the outset, you would never enter into a partnership with someone you thought was an idiot (unless you are one)—then why are we taught to disregard their perspective when making decisions just because we have the votes to push our ideas through? I can say, after thirty years of experience, having this mutual respect for each other that allowed one vote to negate two has saved us from a lot of bad ideas that really seemed good at the time.
Even though most business coaches would tell you that this type of decision management would stifle a business's growth, it did just the opposite for us. In the last thirty years, we have grown the business, patented and sold a refrigerant recovery device to a major manufacturer, started a successful Internet marketing company doing the web marketing for hundreds of contractors nationwide, negotiated the purchase, and later the sale, of a major industry best practice group, and just recently launched a new type of advertising agency specifically for contractors. All of this we could never have done without a partnership based on mutual respect knowing, that our partners had our back at all times.
My father's second rule of protecting a partnership deals with the external forces that can destroy the relationships that make it strong. The second rule is about keeping score properly. Everyone's heard that you shouldn't keep score at all—but no matter how noble it sounds, it doesn't work like that in kids sports and it sure doesn't work like that in a partnership. At least not when people are involved. Unfortunately, we all tend to see the world through our own eyes—and that alone is enough to make the score inaccurate.
It doesn't take a genius to understand that if you only count the goals you make, your team will always appear to win. We may personally be able to see the big picture and know that our partners are pulling as hard as we are… but what about your spouse? If you're in a partnership, ask yourself how many times you've told your spouse that last weekend your partner ended up working all day Saturday while you were at home working on your yard? Yet I guarantee, if your spouse loves you, they can tell you about all the Saturdays you've given up for the business.
If all you share with your spouse, and all they see, are the sacrifices you make for the business, how supportive of the partnership do you think they will be? Do you really want to create an environment at home where the person who potentially influences you the most believes you're being abused and taken advantage of at work? I can't tell you how many wives I've talked to who think their husband carries the entire partnership. Unfortunately, it happens all the time because we never consciously make the decision to communicate the sacrifices our partners make and instead just talk about our own.
You can agree or not agree with my father's perspective on relationships, but looking at the partnership my brother and I now have, and watching my mom dance with my father by moving his wheelchair back and forth at their 60th wedding anniversary—I can't argue with his results. I also can't argue with his perspective that relationships are all that really matter at the end. I believe him on this because he has a perspective that I don't yet have. You see, my father is dying of cancer that has metastasized to his bones. As debilitating and painful as his cancer is, all he tells us every day is that he loves us and that he is the most blessed man on the earth because his family loves him. So as much a part as our business was in our lives, the business rarely comes up in our conversations now. Turns out he's been right the whole time. — Dave