Saying “I Do” to the Other Partner in Your Life

Business partners, much like life partners, can be one of life’s greatest treasures and toughest relationships to manage. Not unlike the partner you go home to every night, a great business partnership takes an immense amount of work, patience, respect, and trust. Dare I say, it’s even a little more challenging to navigate than your personal relationship for many obvious reasons. You don’t end an argument with your business partner by saying, “This is silly. Why are we even fighting? I love you.” Or “You are so darn cute when you get mad.” If this has happened to you with your business partner – you are in love and you need to seek out entirely different advice.  Consult Google or your therapist.

If you’re are still with me, I can tell you a little more about my business partnership with Vicki – which is heading into year 5 and going strong – and what I’ve learned along the way.

Vicki and I met about 9 or 10 months before starting Juno. We were introduced through a mutual connection (who I ended up marrying, looooong story) and we also ran in a lot of similar circles from a business and networking standpoint. Needless to say, we started to bump into each other on a very regular basis and developed a professional relationship. When I first put the bug in Vicki’s ear about the potential of starting a staffing firm, I can say confidently – I really barely knew her. I had been thinking of starting my own firm for a long while and the one thing I knew was that I wanted and needed a business partner. Which brings me to point one:

1.   Self-awareness. I consider myself a pretty self-aware person – what I’m trying to say is, I’m self-aware enough to know how self-aware I am. I digress, Vicki is the polar opposite of me in many ways and I was very drawn to that in a potential partner. We are so opposite that many people comment on it – it’s visible. It’s in the way we handle business, client, candidates, and our staff – it’s in the way we look, how we dress and how we present ourselves. In a lot of cases, this is very good. I push her to the edge of her comfort zone and she keeps me grounded. I’m busy building up and she’s building out, she’s putting down foundation to support that growth. I land one account and she can manage the tedious nature of contracts and insurance and every other little detail while I move on to the next conquer. She keeps us entirely organized, legal, compliant and financially sound. I need her and she needs me. Two Vicki’s would not work and two Mikal’s would be a holy disaster. Again, there is a theme here – this should start to sound a lot like a healthy and balanced personal relationship. You must find the yin to your yang – you must understand your shortcomings and build relationships that will fill in those gaps.  We’ve been in a very aggressive growth mode since inception, which has resulted in a lot of hiring – we use this theory in hiring key players, as well. We hire people who are smarter than us and better than us in certain areas all the time. We are a well-rounded team because of it.

2.   Communication is key. I can’t stress this enough. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Juno Search Partners was nearly a fly by night operation. As I said, we didn’t really know one another when we went into business, so there was a huge learning curve in how to communicate with one another. I would equate it to an arranged marriage – not quite as severe, but it sort of felt like that at times. We were trusting one another with so much, there was so much riding on this venture. I cashed out the tiny 401K I had just to live for a few months and had absolutely no safety net – I was really counting on Vicki to help me launch an entire business from nothing. I mean, literally nothing. I worked from a hand-me-down laptop at my kitchen table and zero additional resources.  So, the first year was much like they describe the first year of marriage. It was very difficult. First of all, we worked from home offices, so separate locations – we had to really trust that the other one was putting in an equal amount of time and effort. Secondly, we had to understand what made the other person tick, what motivated the other person, what priorities they had, were our priorities aligned, what were our strengths and weaknesses, and we had to understand how we communicated. I’m a bulldozer and I often think and talk on the fly. If I have a question, I want an answer immediately. Vicki is a thinker, she’s a bit more introspective, and she likes to think of all angles before answering, she likes to understand all potential outcomes. She viewed me as a bully and I viewed her as evasive and noncommittal. It reached a fever pitch around the 10-month mark, we had a taste of some success by that point, but nothing to write home about. I was pushing and she was pulling – it was typical of us during this time and it exploded. It exploded in a really bad way – that actually turned out to be the best way possible. We took a hard look at each other and the business and really had to evaluate how to move forward. We were challenged with loving the work we were doing, but just not seeing eye to eye on some big decisions and not understanding what that meant for the future. Did it mean we would always disagree or did it mean that we were simply learning more about each other and how to guide Juno? While we were contemplating this, we promised one another that we would continue to work like hell. We made a commitment to each other, to our clients, and to our candidates and we would continue to honor that and handle ourselves with integrity. While we were honoring that commitment, we got great feedback and got really busy. It really forced us to look at each other and look at the business model we were developing. Something was clearly working – not everything, but something. People were responding to us and our different styles. Attracting a variety of clients and candidates was giving us a great deal of diversity. Within a very short amount of time we realized what we had and that we were actually very aligned on all the “big stuff” and the little stuff we could work out. I heard someone talk about broken steel and how sometimes welding it back together makes it stronger in the places that were broken at one time and I immediately thought of my relationship with Vicki. Being forced to look at our communication breakdown and having to put all of our cards on the table to move forward was probably the best thing that could have happened to us and Juno. We were no longer dancing around one another, we were no longer pressing each other’s buttons, and we came out of this time period stronger than ever.

3.   Don’t give up. A nice transition into my third point…DON’T GIVE UP! I feel like we’ve become a bit of a throw away society. In jobs, marriages, friendships, as well as material items. If something isn’t working for us – it’s onto the next thing. Life is not all lollipops, unicorns, and rainbows people. I have to remind candidates of this all the time – every job transition a candidate tells me comes with a story – not enough growth potential, boss was a pain, commute was too long – excuses. My relationship with Vicki works, just as my marriage works, because we committed to never give up on one another. I’m not the best version of myself every day, I’m not always the best business partner – neither is Vicki – we are both pulled into a million directions personally and professionally – sometimes we fall short. But, we don’t give up on one another. We are stronger together than we are apart. We forgive, we move on, we encourage, we pick up each other’s slack – we’ve fought a war together and we don’t forget that. It’s not perfection – no good relationship is and if that’s what is being presented – it’s a lie. There are times I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be nice just to pull the trigger on XYZ and not have to consult anyone? After all, this is why I wanted to branch off and do my own thing.” I believe that some people would just get fed up during tough times and give up – and they miss so much of what’s on the other side of hard work. Just as I sit here writing this, my children are coming out of a 6-day bout of a gruesome stomach bug – on vacation nonetheless. Finn started Saturday and just as the color returned to his little face, it drained from Jack’s. The beauty of twins – when one starts to explode – you get to wait with anticipation for the other one to blow. Jack wrapped up today – days after it all started. It was a bit of a warzone around here and there have been smells that will haunt me until the day I die. Also – the dryer broke and we couldn’t get it fixed for 3 days…I looked at my wife at one point and thought, “I married well…look how amazing she is.” It’s easy for us to find people who want to be around when times are grand – Coronas on the patio people – but look around and see who is in the trenches with you. Don’t let go of those people. Don’t give up on those people.

4.   Lastly, trust. Trust is really the foundation for us and for all of Juno. We were in a situation once where trust was lost with an employee and it was the single worst feeling we’ve ever had – it was destructive for everyone involved. Trust is everything – our team is a unique cast of characters and we have good days and bad days. We get on each other nerves at times, we do – but we laugh a lot and we trust each other completely. We wouldn’t have it any other way. When you go to a place every day where you can trust those around you – whether that’s work or home – but you can really trust that they keep your best interest as high of a priority as their own best interest – you have it all!



Mikal Harden