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Op-ed: How to Succeed in Business—With Your Partner

Op-ed: How to Succeed in Business—With Your Partner


Thinking of going into business with your life partner? Jim Burba and Bob Hayes explain how they did it.

When we met some 22 years ago at a fancy black tie fundraiser at the Disneyland Hotel, going into business together was absolutely not on our minds that evening. Now, here we are, 12 years into a blockbuster of an international business. People often ask us how we manage to keep our life partnership and business partnership together without killing each other in the process. Bob says patience, Jim says mutual respect, and we both say a lot of martinis.

Patience, mutual respect, and of course martinis, do help keep things going. But there needs to be a solid understanding of yourself and your partner before you even consider expanding from life partners to becoming business partners as well. Fortunately for us, we had a pretty good idea of what we were all about as individuals. We had been life partners for nearly 10 years before we crossed the great divide into a business life together. Over many, many conversations, we planned how a business together might work with our two strong personalities. Who would do what, who would be the "boss," how would we keep the professional from creeping into the personal? By the way, keeping the professional out of the personal when your business partner is your life partner is impossible. Remember that.

Before starting a business together, you and your partner should ask yourselves these three things:

1. What skills and talent does the business need to be successful?
The work of Dr. William Marston, a psychologist in the 1920s and 30s, who formulated his DISC measurement of behavioral characteristics and self-awareness, may have some answers to this question. It may sound like mouthful of analytic rhetoric, but DISC helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses, and the areas where you may contribute the most to the success of a potential business. A successful business needs people who bring some level of all the DISC characteristics and skills to the team, so carefully assess what your business needs. A short summary of the DISC types are:

D=Dominant. If you are a D, then you are the driver of the train. You are independent, persistent, and direct. You are the entrepreneur who has the vision, and you are going for it.

I=Influential. If you are an I, then you are persuasive, inspiring, and impressive. You are the salesman of the team, promoting the vision of the D. Your focus is on the future, not the present, and the people rather than the tasks.

S=Steady. O.K., S, you are the rudder of the ship. You keep the boat going in the right, consistent direction. D and I may zigzag all over the place, but you are the navigator, and you point the bow toward success.

C=Conscientious. You are the slow and critical thinker. C likes having rules and processes to follow, and you follow them perfectly. Sometimes too perfectly. It's ok to be a perfectionist, but remember this is a business, and there is nothing perfect about that.

2. What talent and skills do you each bring to the business (and business partnership)?
Take a look at DISC. Every business needs a combination of each letter. Too much D and not enough S or C and you will create fabulous new ideas that will never be executed on a sustainable basis. In a small start-up company, you may need to be the Jack or Jackie-of-all-trades, but very few people are really good at everything. Are you going to need help to fill in a DISC letter or two? In large companies, the DISC skills get staffed in departments like the Accounting, Sales and Operations.

Can you tell what behavioral type you are? Keep in mind that your role in a life partnership may or may not be the same as your business role. Like a lot of people, we are an interesting combo. We knew going into our business partnership that Jim is a combo of D and I. Bob is a definite S and C, with a little D and I thrown in for good measure. Knowing this about ourselves, we had a head start in answering question number three.

3. Do the business needs identified in #1 match the skills identified in #2?
We were able to determine that we had the right combination of traits, desires, commitment and temperament to move forward into a business partnership. Jim was good at being the front man. Bob was excellent at being the behind-the-scenes guy. Jim had the connections in the hotel business and the drive to go out and pitch our product. Bob had the desire to set up a smooth, efficient, and profitable business operation.

Now that you have an analytic tool to help look at yourself and your life partner, do you think you have a business match? Perhaps you should ask yourself this question: "If you had the budget to hire someone for the role to be played by your life partner, would you consider 'hiring' your life partner? If the answer is mostly yes, then you may be a match made in business heaven, so go for it.

Of special note--one behavioral characteristic that is important and may supersede all others is Trust. As life partners, you trust each other on a very personal level, and that can be a strength that makes up all the difference when there is a less-than-perfect match between the skills needed and the needs of business.

Next time, we'll talk about what happens after you "go for it." How do you keep your life partnership strong when your life partner is your business partner? Hint: "it ain't easy."

JIM BURBA AND BOB HAYES Jim Burba and Bob Hayes have been partners in life and livelihood for more than 20 years. As co-founders of Burba Hotel Network, this couple has formed a power partnership that has become the worldwide leader in developing and producing conferences for the hotel and tourism investment community. Since 2000, their events have attracted more than 70,000 international delegates in 22 countries.

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Jim Burba and Bob Hayes