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Principles of a Perfect Partnership

2009 October 15

Fairly early in my career, I was lucky enough to work for two men I was able to learn a lot from.  They were enormously successful, overcoming obstacles that foiled others in the early “Wild East” years of Eastern Europe.

Where others had bigger plans and ambitions but faltered, they achieved all they set out to do.  Their secret laid not in their business model, education or connections.  Ray and Piotr had something much more powerful.  They had a perfect partnership.

A Seemingly Mismatched Pair

At first glance, they couldn’t have been more different.  Piotr was a local and Ray a British national.  Piotr was young and balding, while Ray was nearly sixty with an enormous head of blonde hair.  While Piotr would tend to blend in anywhere, Ray was always assumed to be someone famous.  He would routinely walk into restaurants anywhere in the world and get the best table.

If one looked a little more deeply, it became apparent that their actual personalities matched the other one’s looks.  Piotr was innovative and emotive, while Ray was traditional and extremely practical when it came to personal relationships. Ray was working class, a former boat builder’s apprentice, while Piotr had a law degree and was fairly high tech.

Through a twist of fate, they found themselves in business together and prospered.  I learned a lot while working for them, and even more since.  They were clever, shrewd in their business dealings and enormously driven.  Most of all, they shared a common approach to business and to life.

Secrets to their Success

Trust: Ray and Piotr trusted each other completely.  They almost never met anyone together about business, preferring to compare notes later.  This always allowed them to say “I’ll have to talk to my partner, of course.”  While this was terribly frustrating for me personally, it was also extremely effective.

If you ever walked into a room with both of them together…watch out!  They had made a decision and choreographed an agenda.

They were Self-Confident and Self-Aware: One of my first experiences with Ray was to meet a major multi-national corporation about a joint venture in the nicest hotel in town.  We discussed the deal over breakfast and they pitched us on their “major initiative.” They were very eager to start the partnership with our company.

After laying out the general outline, they handed Ray a contract template and said “we apologize that it’s in German.”  Neither of us spoke German or ever gave an indication that we did.  It was an insulting act of incompetence.

“Oh really, Where do I sign!” he wryly replied.  While most independent businessmen would have been intimidated or combative at the insult, Ray was able to put them in their place in a way that was both charming and graceful.

Piotr had similar verve.  He was absolutely unflappable.  Once we were called into our biggest client’s office for a (well deserved) thrashing.  We had screwed up royally and fully expected to be fired.  We sat around a very tense conference table and nobody was sure how to start the meeting.

You could cut the tension in the room with a knife.  After a few tense moments, Piotr quipped, “Well, thank you for inviting us,” with a schoolboy’s grin.  Everybody burst out laughing and we kept the client.

They each knew their role: Both had a role to play and they played it to perfection.  Around foreigners, Ray held court.  Almost as soon as a new, homesick ex-pat would arrive, he would find himself at Ray’s house for a meal home cooked by his wife, Sylvia.

Later he would be brought around the office to meet the “local partner.”  With a wink and a nod, Ray would allude to Piotr’s mysterious connections (which were usually overblown, if not absolutely fictitious).

Piotr was similarly adept at promoting Ray to locals.  To them, Ray was a sophisticated international businessman, who was well travelled and had a wide variety of business interests.  He had a flamboyant, almost aristocratic bearing that was extremely charming and it was rare that anybody could resist his spell.

They were solution-oriented, not ego-driven: I’ve never seen either one succumb to pride.  Piotr, when he was asked by a trade magazine about the secret of his success, replied “Luck.”  Ray, even after he had made his fortune, referred to himself as a “boat builder’s apprentice.”

While creating myths for others, they never succumbed themselves.  They never had an ego driven argument amongst themselves or with others.  They never went in search of dragons to slay.

Eventually, the partners sold their business interests to major multinational companies and went on with their lives.  Ray went back to England to retire and enjoy his grandchildren.  Piotr took his money and invested in real estate, parking lots and car washes, where clients are considerable less demanding than the advertising business (although he still dabbles in that as well).

In the ensuing years, I have seen entrepreneurs build vibrant enterprises and seek to conquer the world, only to crash and burn.  Success breeds hubris and then, inevitable failure.  It seems that not enough young tycoons had Ray and Piotr to show them the way.  (See How Companies Fail)

Although they did not conquer the world, Ray and Piotr conquered themselves and they profited handsomely from it.  What’s more, I probably have profited even more just by knowing them.

– Greg

32 Responses leave one →
  1. Olena permalink
    October 15, 2009

    In business, like in a play you have to know your role, and to know it well. Knowing your role means also knowing your possibilities.
    It’s very important not to underestimate, as well as not to overestimate your possibilities.
    It’s also important to play one and the same play with your business partner/colleague. Then the “puzzle” matches, and assuming that you estimated your strengths and weaknesses in adequate way – you will be successful ,so, as Piotr and Ray are.

  2. October 15, 2009

    Thanks Olena.

    I think you’re right. Besides, those guys were a lot of fun!

    – Greg

  3. October 15, 2009

    Nice story Greg. Funny how REAL people make really good business people.

  4. October 15, 2009

    Thanks, Momblebee.

    Those guys were great!

    – Greg

  5. October 16, 2009

    This is a great posting. Any plans to expand it to a Harvard Business Review type case study? Also, are there any articles in the business press that one could refer to on your mentors?
    Thanks again and best regards,

  6. October 16, 2009


    Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.

    Ray is retired and Piotr flies pretty well below the Radar. They cashed out over ten years ago.

    – Greg

  7. October 18, 2009

    Very nice, Greg. One can tell that Ray and pitor really enjoyed working with each other, and you allude to their bond of friendship without specifically mentioning it. Even so late in life, I still day hope to meet a good, solid partner I can call a friend.

    Interesting speculation; since I am Polish (though living in America) and you’re a Westerner (though living in Kiev), if we worked together would you be the local and I the expat, or the other way around?

  8. October 18, 2009


    Dzieki dla kommentari.

    Ja nie wiem jesli jestem amerikaninem jescze, ale ja pije jak prawdziwy Polak:-)

    – Greg

  9. Raul RUEDA permalink
    October 19, 2009

    Congratulation Greg

    I thing also managing employee performance every day is the key to an effective performance management system. Setting goals, making sure your expectations are clear, and providing frequent feedback help people perform most effectively. Learn more about managing performance

  10. October 19, 2009

    Nikt nie pije jak Polak.


  11. October 19, 2009

    Nawet Polaky?

    – Greg

  12. October 19, 2009

    Ja moge:-)

  13. October 19, 2009

    Być może:-)

  14. Ruffstone permalink
    October 20, 2009

    Very nice post. I rushed into a partnership 4 years ago and I could have benefited from this article back then. My partner is a good man, but we were just so very different in our philosophies that it didn’t work out. Like a marriage, conflict is inevitable in partnerships so its important to really know how the two (or more) of you will work together. Just being friends with a good idea doesn’t cut it, sometimes it can make it worse.

  15. October 20, 2009


    Good point. I’ve had similar experiences myself.

    – Greg

  16. M. Loewe permalink
    November 6, 2009

    This reminds me of something the founder of and, Chris Larsen, recently told me: If you’re starting a new venture, do it with a partner but not more. More than two people will make the decision process complicated. And split the venture 50/50. If you’re not 50/50, you either have a very expensive employee or an unsatisfied partner.

  17. November 6, 2009

    Sounds like a healthy perspective:-)

  18. November 7, 2009

    Thanks for this article. This is such a great reminder of what it takes to have a good partnership. And when it works it’s pretty effortless too.

  19. November 7, 2009


    Thanks. I’m glad you liked it:-)

    – Greg

  20. November 11, 2009


    Great new business development strategies that apparently emphasize up front agreements and understandings of the approaches, goals and objectives. It is also apparent that mutual respect was the glue that kept them together through the challenges.

    Felix Nater

  21. November 11, 2009


    I enjoyed the many lessons.

  22. November 29, 2009

    Greg, you most certainly (and elegantly) expressed an ol’ fashion way of doing business. Here, in Alberta, Canada, when I first arrived in 1979 as an immigrant from communism-ravaged Romania business was still done on a basis of a hand shake. A partnership was initiated for a long haul and as such the social netting was developing on a solid basis. I am nostalgic about that, but the principles of a ‘traditional’ partnership, as you have exemplified it, are still valid.

  23. November 29, 2009


    Nice to hear from someone who wen the other way:-))

    – Greg

  24. December 1, 2009

    Hi Greg
    You have decoded partnership very cleanly. Having a great partner is like finding a diamond mine:)
    thanks for sharing your insights.
    I learn a lot from mentor who teaches me “partnering is all about win-win.”

  25. December 1, 2009


    Thanks. It sounds like you have a great mentor.

    – Greg

  26. December 3, 2009

    A great partnership. I’m just sad that they parted ways but I’m sure that they always cherished the memory of being together. Trust and being funny sometimes is important in partnership.
    Thanks for your story Greg.

  27. December 3, 2009


    They didn’t really part ways. They sold their businesses and Ray retired. They still keep in touch.

    – Greg

  28. December 3, 2009

    Hi Greg,
    A partnership is like a marriage – it is only successful is both parties work at it all the time and grow together.


  29. December 4, 2009


    Thanks. Can you tell my wife? She really needs to work on admitting that everything is her fault:-))

    – Greg

  30. December 5, 2009

    You are very funny 🙂
    As for here, it is never MY fault when my husband is in that “romantic mood” 🙂
    Thank goodness it’s often!

  31. December 10, 2009


    Even before I read this I considered myself one of the luckiest people because I found a great friend who also makes the perfect the partner in a busines we will soon launch. It was a relief to read your post since I have asked myself, “Is this real, can we really be this good with each other?” Now I know it can and has happened. I look forward to the day when my partner and I can look back at our successful business and our strong friendship.

    I wish to see this more often in people and business.

    Thanks and have a wonderful holiday season.


  32. December 10, 2009


    Thanks for your comment.

    I wish you great success in the new year!

    – Greg

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