Part II: Two Successful Female Business Partnerships
We talked in last week's blog about the challenges and successes of a female business partnership through the lens of Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas, business partners and co-presidents of Mulberry Partners. We know the subject well from our own partnership in writing together for more than 30 years, far longer than many marriages. But we wanted to hear how other women achieved work nirvana, so here are two other teams that show how to manage the formula well.
Co-Executive Directors Linda Popky and Lisa Anderson
Linda Popky, a strategic marketing expert with her own business, Leverage2Market Associates, and the author of Marketing Above the Noise: Achieve Strategic Advantage with Marketing that Matters, and Lisa Anderson, a globally-renowned supply chain expert and the owner of LMA Consulting, https://www.lma-consultinggroup.com, have been co-executive directors of the Society for the Advancement of Consulting (SAC), an LLC, http://www.consultingsociety.com, since buying it more than a year ago. SAC focuses on offering boutique consultants a community to share ideas, best practices and to participate in online and in-person events.
Linda Popky and Lisa Anderson
When the two women took over the 15-year old organization, it was in maintenance mode, says Popky. Before purchasing the LLC, there were limited programs offered and member interactions were all handled manually--resulting in low engagement and high member attrition, she says. “We scrapped the old web site, introduced new web and in-person programs, streamlined the membership process, and refocused our marketing. As a result, we've been able to grow membership fivefold to nearly 200 members in 13 countries in less than 12 months--and we think we've only just scratched the surface of what's possible. We've done all this, even though we live in opposite ends of California (Linda is in Silicon Valley and Lisa is in Claremont) and work remotely almost all of the time,” Popky said. Since each woman has her own business, some months they devote 110 percent to SAC if there’s an event or program taking place and other months, they might work 25 percent of the time on SAC.
They believe their partnership works so well because:
- We have different areas of expertise that complement each other nicely;
- We both respect each other, understand the other's working style, and are careful to work out any disagreements in private, not in public;
- We have a very clear understanding of what our goals are, and we're in agreement about how we will go about achieving them;
- We have very similar decision-making styles. We raise an issue, quickly review the options available, make a decision, then move forward. We don't ruminate on things or worry about what would have happened if we'd taken a different path;
- We really do see this as a partnership, not a competition. We succeed or fail together, and we've chosen to succeed.
How did they meet? Both of us have been involved in the mentoring program of consulting guru Alan Weiss, who founded SAC. When he needed someone to help with news releases, we both put up our hands. So, in 2014 we were writing press releases together and getting them out every other month. We found we both worked the same way, had a similar work ethic and decision-making style, which is, give us the information and we’ll give you a quick “yes” or “no.” Neither of us ruminates whether to move forward with something. Also, we come from complementary careers. Lisa makes sure all the operational and backend systems work correctly, and Linda does the writing and marketing.
How did you decide it would work? We had our honeymoon period to see if we were compatible before buying SAC. Working together in 2014 turned out to be a wonderful experience. We’ve had challenging moments since we’ve taken over this business. But they didn’t have anything to do with our personalities and working together.
How do you work remotely since you live at opposite ends of California? We have a standing call late each Monday afternoon. It’s on our calendars, whether we meet or not, and we do so through Zoom, a video conferencing program that has fewer bugs than some of the others. We might not need to meet or will do so for 10, 30 or even 45 minutes, as needed. Throughout the rest of the week, we text and email. When we talk with members, we use Zoom. We also bought webinar functionality and do monthly webinars for members. We record the webinars and for those who cannot “attend” them, the webinars are archived on our website.
Do you meet face-to-face and how often? We’ll see each other in March, April and May, the end of November at our annual meeting and a couple more times in addition to that, as needed.
Do you consider yourselves to be close friends? There’s a camaraderie and trust. We’re closer friends than we were before, but we don’t go places together for we don’t see each other a great deal. Yet, we gossip, talk about our lives and our families and laugh together. Here’s an example. One night, our web developer turned on a new function for member credit card renewals. We’re both night owls so we were online when this happened. A renewal came in and then another and another, where the same member was being charged multiple times. We finally figured out how to get this to stop. Meanwhile, I was trying to reverse each charge as fast as it came in. We were laughing, because of the absurdity. You must keep your sense of humor in this kind of situation. Sometimes we get frustrated with a problem. Why is this happening? But it’s always about the work and not about the other person. We each have our space. We are both good at compromising and figuring out how to work together.
Do you discuss each project before you take it on? We usually talk about things through an email or text. And we have an ongoing to do list that we send to each other each week. Here’s what I’m doing and here’s what you’re doing.
Do you have a partnership contract and, if so, what have you included, or did you just talk up front and set the rules? Yes. It was drafted by attorneys. It’s an LLC 50/50 partnership. It covers an exit strategy. If one of us leaves, the other person has the first right of refusal. We have an agreement that neither of us can spend more than $500 without checking with the other. Whatever profits we make, we divide in half. We evaluate on a quarterly basis whether to take money out of the company for salaries. Remember, this partnership is only a year old.
How do you handle the what ifs? If something goes wrong such as divorce, deaths, sickness, disability, vacation time away? Linda is already divorced, and Lisa is single, so we’re through with that. In terms of illness or vacation time, we just let the other one know. If one of us is on vacation, it’s understood that we’ll give our contact information to the other but don’t expect a quick response. If one person is not able to do her part over the long-term, any disability is covered in the LLC agreement.
How do you resolve conflict or disagreements in this partnership? One day one of us was more upset than the other. It had to do with a business partner who wasn’t coming through. One of us thought it was a problem and the other wanted to fix it. We compromised and worked it out.
Not all partnerships age as well as others. Most ebb and flow. Some remain consistent sources of wonder and awe. Others can curdle into irrelevance if anger and misunderstanding start to seep in…much like a marriage. Or some just wither and end. Our next duo really understands the dynamic and shed more light on the topic.
Ph.D. Psychologists Rosemary Lichtman and Phyllis Goldberg Work Well Together for Nearly 20 Years
Rosemary Lichtman and Phyllis Goldberg have worked together since 2000 and co-authored the book, Whose Couch Is It Anyway? Moving Your Millennial (2015 Fuze Publishing, Ashland, Oregon). Their book provides insightful stories about five different families and how they learn practical solutions for living with a boomerang kid.
Rosemary Lichtman and Phyllis Goldberg
Phyllis and Rosemary were initially friends who had first met through their husbands, both of whom are doctors. Their kids were similar ages and over the years the families participated in activities and celebrated holidays together, eventually hosting each other’s children’s rehearsal dinners. Becoming empty nesters, they decided to start a business with another friend, focusing on helping women transition into retirement. About five years later, the third woman dropped out due to family responsibilities.
Although Rosemary and Phyllis each have a Ph.D. in psychology, they fill different niches. Rosemary is a health psychologist who generally uses cognitive-behavioral, short-term, techniques, and Phyllis does psychodynamic therapy with individuals and couples in transition. As they worked together, the women realized that they were simpatico because “each was married to a person who is like the other one of us,” said Rosemary, the more laid back of the two. Phyllis is what the co-authors Betsy Polk and Maggie Ellis Chotas of Power Through Partnerships: How Women Lead Better Together call “push” (the mover) and Rosemary is “pull” (the reality checker). Rosemary and Phyllis have tremendous respect, trust and admiration for each other. And they have fun, too, sharing recipes, talking about their grandsons and traveling together.
How did you start out as partners?
We developed a website for women, www.HerMentorCenter.com, and began to write daily blogs and a monthly newsletter. We got together once a week to work on research projects, set goals and divide the labor. Our third partner had to exit early in 2006 when her mother became seriously ill.
Did the partnership change after the third woman left?
After she left, our partnership underwent its first transition. We shifted the focus from women transitioning into retirement to addressing general relationship challenges of the family-in-flux, including younger mothers’ concerns as well. Since that age group was more active on the Internet, we created a social media profile by which we provided support, information, and services.
If you’ve had conflict, how have you handled it?
We didn’t always agree, but it was mostly about the work. We would talk through an issue and try to compromise. Sometimes I would give in and other times Phyllis would. Writing our book, we found it worked best if each of us did the first draft of different sections in each chapter. Phyllis would set up the story line and create much of the dialogue; I would design the exercises and strategies that we suggested. Then we would exchange material and edit away. If one of us felt the need to push back about the other’s changes, we had the freedom to hold our ground.
Recently, you underwent another transition that strained the partnership but didn’t end the friendship. Can you explain?
Two years ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and six months ago, I cut back on working on the website. For now, Phyllis is doing the lion’s share of running HerMentorCenter. At this point, we are pursuing our separate ventures. My concentration now is focused on finishing a long-time dream of putting together a cookbook with the working title “Cooking with Grandma - and Learning her Secrets.” I’m writing about my extended family and their relationships with food, offering recipes and peppering each with funny stories. Phyllis has become more deeply involved in working to develop solutions to the plague of homelessness in our community. Although our priorities have changed as I have stepped back from the partnership, Phyllis and I remain close friends.
Do you have any good general advice you can share about female business partnerships?
Some pundits subscribe to the conventional wisdom that women can’t “play well” together – they are too jealous, insecure and bossy to work toward a common goal. Evolutionary psychologists postulate that, throughout history, females have been motivated to attract the best genetic mates by denigrating their competitors. In contrast, social psychologists note that women are hard wired and socialized to seek connections. They cite the “tend and befriend” phenomenon, pointing to the support women provide to each other in times of stress. That push and pull can lead to sparks when two females partner up – whether they are sparks of aggression or creativity depends on the two women.