Business partnerships are like marriages--most end up in divorce. However, those partners that find a way to make it work always say that they couldn't have achieved their success without the perspective of their partner. So what is it that makes a great business partnership work?
James Hendrick has been in business for over 25 years with his partner Tom Ryan. Together they own and run five well-established restaurants and bars in New York--TapRoom 307, Bierhaus NYC, MadDog and Beans Mexican Cantina (Manhattan and Brooklyn), and BullsHead Tavern. The restaurant business is notorious for being a difficult nut to crack, and these two have not only cracked it, but contend that in nearly three decades of working together, they have never had one argument. In the entrepreneurial world, having a successful business partner is like finding gold. So I recently sat down with Hendrick to identify some powerful lessons for making a partnership work.
How did you initially know that partnering with Tom was a good idea?
It was a gut feeling based on our friendship. I have typically based my whole career on instinctive decisions. Originally, I moved to New York in a band and we were four guys on a mission. Because of that experience, I was accustomed to going for goals with others. Tom was also the type of person that I wanted to be involved with. I liked him, we were friends. I was a waiter and he was a bartender when we met. It took us 10 years from when we decided to go into business together to open our first bar, so there was a lot time to test the relationship. It's important to know who you're going into business with. They say never go into business with your best friend, but we have proven that best friends can be great partners--we compliment each other.
How do you handle day-to-day business decisions?
We analyze everything and we enjoy the process of analyzing. Our discussions comprise of a lot of back and forth. We rarely have to compromise because we both respect the other's abilities to make the right decisions. If we don't agree, we wait until there is something that we both do agree on. Day-to-day decisions come through analysis, scenario-building, and analyzing the pros and cons. In a great partnership, you are both like-minded.
What are some lessons you have learned about your partnership that you think would be valuable to others?
First, make sure it's fun to accomplish things together. After that, ultra communication and honesty is essential. We pride ourselves in our trust for each other. Don't sweat the small stuff and keep your cool when things can go wrong. And finally, don't be accusatory--it's about finding solutions, not identifying the problem. We identify the problems, and spend a lot of time talking about paths to solutions. We have a tool called "The F-Up Card." We allow each other to be imperfect and move on from it quickly.
What do you think is the number one reason you two have been able to successfully make decisions together over the past 29 years?
We have a clear mission: Keep it simple and do it well. We both have persistence with this mission, and in the process, deeply respect each other's opinions and communicate our opinions to each other on a regular basis. It's a never-ending journey.
How do you handle conflict?
In a conflict situation, which is rare, we may compromise. You know how they say in marriages, pick your arguments? There are some moments when Tom will let me to be right and I do the same for him. It's a fluid back and forth.
If you had a succinct framework for helping others pick partners, what would it be?
You should make sure you have the following:
1. Different skill-sets.
2. Share the same core values. For example, a few of ours are trust, persistence and treating others well.
3. Ability to deeply respect the other person's skill-set.
4. Share the same leadership values and alignment with how you treat people.
5. Zero ego from both people.
Essentially, make sure you are similar as people and how you lead others, but have skill-sets that are opposites.