What Makes a Successful Business Partnership?

A business partnership is often described as being similar to a marriage. Which maybe explains why having my brother as my business partner can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable.

Growing up, I always thought my older brother was the coolest. He taught us how to play Hang on for Dear Life, a game that involves a bunch of kids standing on a swing, one kid trying to knock them all off, and usually a little bit of blood, and Kill the Man with the Ball, also bunch of kids, but with just a ball and not surprisingly, also a little bit of blood. He listened to all the cool music. He had cool friends. He was the kind of guy who was so smart he could cruise through school without having to study.

I was a pretty big nerd. I studied a lot. Took extra credit. My wildest moment was when my parents came home early to find that I had a party at the house. A dinner party. With spaghetti and meatballs. And cloth napkins. Not exactly a rager. So I looked up to my cool big brother. Soaked up all of the brotherly influence and advice I could. I have him to thank for never becoming an ‘N Sync fan. I’m still grateful for that one.

As we grew up, our differences took Chris and I on different paths. I went to college. He got a technical education. Ironically, we both ended up at the same destination – co-owners of the HVAC business our father started – but with two separate sets of skills. Chris’ background in all things technical is solid. He’s had experience with nearly every facet of fieldwork. He is also an amazing judge of character and he’s street-smart. I, on the other hand, have an understanding of finance, management and all things business. I always think the best of everyone and I skew naive. True to form, since we generally disagree on everything, I think our differences are the perfect recipe for a successful partnership, while he thinks they’re a giant pain in the ass. Our parents remain un-decided.

It all reminds me of a story of when Chris and I were young. One day my brother and I nearly gave my parents a heart attack when we hid in the kitchen cabinet while they scoured the house searching high and low for us, sure we’d been abducted and were being tortured as they frantically searched. While all the while, we were safely tucked away in our hiding spot, giggling and congratulating ourselves on our hilarious prank, waiting for the right moment to jump out and surprise them. (That’s us in the picture below when Mom finally found us.) I sometimes wonder if we’re not in a similar situation now in the business. My parents are on edge, worried about how we’re doing, while he and I are just waiting for our big moment to surprise them.

That’s not to say that our partnership has been all giggles, either. Currently we resolve differences by yelling at each other for a while and then the tie goes to whoever has more expertise in the particular subject matter we’re debating. It’s not ideal. We’re a work in progress. So this question, I pose to you, Dear Reader: In an equal partnership, when you disagree, how do you resolve your differences? We’re still refining our method.

What’s your method?