Special Report: Perfect Pairs – How to sustain a productive business partnership

Kevin O’Leary is so prickly on Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank that you might think he doesn’t work well with others. Yet central to his biggest business triumph was how effectively he teamed up with his two partners. In Cold Hard Truth, O’Leary offers pointers on how to keep partnerships vital and strong.

Find partners whose strengths are precisely your weaknesses: O’Leary’s educational-software firm The Learning Company, which Mattel bought in 1999 for US$3.2 billion, thrived because of the CEO’s expertise in operations, the CFO’s expertise in finances and president O’Leary’s expertise in sales and marketing. There were no gaps in the armour among the partners, says O’Leary, so they rarely made mistakes.

Never undermine your partners in public, even when you think they’re wrong: Deal with any disagreements in private so your employees and shareholders never see them. It’s a lot like good parenting: once a kid sees a crack in the united parental front, it’s over.

Leave your ego at the door: Although you should put your strongest players on the field, don’t neglect to cultivate a tight backup team on the bench that’s ready to jump in and save the day if your starters can’t. Never forget that everyone is replaceable—even you.

It’s always about the company: Every move, every decision, every disagreement must be about the company. It’s never personal. Partner with people who get that; otherwise, they’ll be working out their latent family issues all over your bottom line. It may feel as if you’re closer to them than you are to your own spouse, but it’s always, always, always about the money.

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