Coming up fast: Building to last - It's tearing our company apart

Coming up fast: Building to last - It's tearing our company apart - DILEMMA: Two of us founded our business 10 years ago and it has been a tremendous success. Well, until recently. We just don't get on any more.

by PATRICK DUNNE, who works with 3i
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

DILEMMA: Two of us founded our business 10 years ago and it has been a tremendous success. Well, until recently. We just don't get on any more.

The simplest of decisions takes for ever to agree, and it's pulling the company in different directions. I'm worried that my partner might damage the business unless we do something soon.

ISSUES: What's really the problem? Should we take what has been said at face value? I wouldn't. Most high-growth businesses outgrow at least one of their founders. Many outgrow them all. It could be you that's the problem. But what if the capabilities of the founders isn't the issue?

It might be differing perceptions about relative contribution and reward.

If they are and one of you ends up being bought out, how will you agree on value?

Success affects motivation differently, inspiring some to want to achieve more, others to cash in their chips, take a rest or do something else.

Aligned ambitions easily diverge.

Are the differences about things of substance? Can you find a way to get back together again? Or has the loyalty elastic that enabled you to get through tough times in the past snapped? If it has, trivia dominates, trust evaporates, insecurity reigns and others end up sharing the pain.

Breaking up is hard to do. Accepting it as a joint problem and taking action can be tough. The usual outcome is a buy-out of one party or a sale of the business. Getting a trusted adviser to set out the options for both of you can sometimes help to resolve things, but it can also accentuate how your points of view differ.

If you two decide to part but you yourself stay, how will your role change?

How will you fill the inevitable gap? And if you end up leaving, what will you do afterwards? Try to turn the sense of failure over parting into something positive.

ACTION

- You both have to figure out what the problem really is.

- Someone else may need to identify it. Enlist the support of a third party whom you both respect.

- Agree a common goal, even if that is not to destroy what you've built.

If you can't find a way to co-exist, separate and get on with it.

- If you're the one to go, focus your efforts on the afterlife.

- Last but not least, just as in a dying marriage think of the kids; this break-up affects more than just the two of you.

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