The Perfect Partnership Formula

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Delray Beach, FL– Talk about teamwork… In 1995, a young man named Howard Marks got together with another young man, Bruce Karsh, and the two of them built a $100 billion asset management firm from scratch.

Tim Ferriss asked Marks: “So what was the secret to your partnership?”

Marks had an interesting answer, one that made a lot of sense to me. He said that the best partnerships are those in which “the partners have the same values but complementary skills.”

In their case, they had the same idea of the sort of business culture they wanted to create and they had the same ideas about how to treat clients. But they differed in skill sets. Karsh was a slow thinker, Marks said. And he was a fast thinker.

The combination of intuitive and analytical thinking, Marks said, made their decision making stronger.

But, he added, it “couldn’t have been done without trust and humility.” You need to trust that your partner has the firm’s best interests at heart and you have to trust his judgment. “You also have to understand the limits of your own capabilities. You have to accept the fact that you may be wrong about almost anything.”

I’ve often said that you can’t entirely trust what successful CEOs say about what did. You’ve got to wonder whether they’re telling you the truth or a burnished version of it.

Still, the Marks/Karsh formula rings true for me. I’ve had many successful partnerships in my business career and a few that went bad. Those that failed did so precisely because somewhere along the line we realized we had different values: different ideas about product quality, treating employees, and making deals.

And the successful ones were all unequal partnerships – unequal in terms of our talents and knowledge and skills, so that the sum of our two heads were better than two.

If you are in a partnership now or thinking about getting into one, it might serve you to think about whether you do, indeed, have similar values and different talents and skills.