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Are you partnership material?

John Mickelson, managing partner Midwest Growth Partners, is IowaBiz's blogger on succession planning. Read more about him here. 

Many a parent worries about their children finding the right spouse. Singles think about their wedding day, the ceremony and the flowers. Unfortunately, nearly 50 percent of marriages end up in divorce because many people do not think about what kind of married person they will be. Are they marriage material?

Many of those same qualities go into being a business partner. If you are thinking about partnering with someone on a business as part of your succession plan, you should structure carefully and think about your personality. Otherwise you may face the equivalent of a business divorce with your partner. Are you partner material?

Let’s look at some traditional marriage vows and overlay them with some hard-earned truths we have learned about partnerships:

I, Jane, take you, Joe, to be my husband,

Depending on the type of organization, the rights of each party (Jane and Joe) are spelled out in the bylaws or an operating agreement. 

to have and to hold

There is a strong likelihood that you will spend more time with your business partner than you will with your actual spouse.

from this day forward,

Most often business agreements are written to last from the date of signage until “forever” or until some predetermined event occurs.

for better, for worse,

Business partnerships ALL have their ups and downs. Regardless of which stage the business is in, you are in it with your partner. They will have ideas you may not agree with, and vice versa.

for richer, for poorer,

Strains in partnerships often appear when a business is very successful or very unsuccessful. Money (or lack thereof) can make partners (and their families) act differently than they have in the past. 

in sickness and in health,

Business partners get sick. Spouses get sick. Children get sick. Elderly parents get sick. Life happens, and we cannot always control it and it is no one’s fault. Partners should consider what options they have for the unpredictable events that will occur.

until we are parted by death.

Partners go into business with each other, not with each other’s spouses or children. As a result, business agreements should be written to protect the business – typically with a buy/sell agreement and key-man insurance – in the event of an untimely death of one of the partners.

This is my solemn vow.

It is not a vow, but contractual law forming a partnership is binding and requires a significant undertaking to unwind.

Finding a partner to purchase and run part of your business is a good option for a succession plan. There are no right answers to partnerships, and there are millions of examples of successful ones and as many examples of unsuccessful ones. A common thread on successful ones is clear communication, level-setting expectations ahead of close of the transaction, and a well-defined set of "vows" to operate from.


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