Article 13 – A marriage of convenience

by Tan Thiam Hock

Have you ever tried shopping for a 24 carat diamond? No? Never? Me neither.

Ever since I wrote about replacing the diamond with 24 roses to celebrate my wedding anniversary, my wife’s sisters-in-arms have bombarded me with messages of disbelief calling me stingy, kedekutand unloving. They could not understand how her sacrifice of staying married to a guy like me was not worth at least a carat a year. I was stumped.

How do you value a relationship? From our marriage, my wife already owns 50% of everything that I own. Well… almost. In addition, she claims that her money is her money and my money is also her money. By the rule of the law and not by choice, I am actually generous to my wife to the point of being broke.

How do you value a business relationship? As an entrepreneur, you are always in partnership with somebody. Different valuations for different partnerships.

Partnership of convenience. Partnership of necessity. Partnership of greed.

Partnership is like marriage. Exciting moments of romance. Virgin wedding nights. Painful mutual discoveries. Then zombie existence. Partners till death do you part. In heavy losses or in share of heavenly profits.

Married partnerships are basically husband and wife teams or couples of the same sex. Like Batman and Robin, one personality should be more dominating than the other. Even better if their personalities complement each other. In my case, I do all the talking and my better half do all the work. That’s great team work.

There are great debates over the merits of husband and wife working together in the same company. It’s a no no if both are employees. It is just too complicated for everyone in the company.

However, as owners and entrepreneurs, a husband and wife team can be quite successful. As long as the wife can soothe the guy’s ego and the husband can patiently listen to the day’s woes. If it works, it is just good chemistry. That’s all there is to it. No magic formulas and no marriage counselling required. I have seen some entrepreneur couples end up in divorce. Great teamwork, high profile and very successful in building their business. They just drift apart as individuals or because of mid-life infidelity. When the couple becomes successful, the wife will tend to spend lavishly on herself, to keep herself looking young and well accessorised. The husband will spend lavishly on the other younger women to keep himself feeling young and well satisfied. Broken business and broken families.

Friends in partnerships brings back fond memories. Back in the 80s, it was trendy for a group of 10 friends to invest RM10,000 each to open a pub. Since everyone loves to drink, it makes sense to open their own pub where everyone knows your name. Business was good as all the partners brought in their friends and acted like proud owners, bought drinks for everyone. Only problem was, payment was signed on 555 notebook, not on credit card slips. Soon, the pub ran out of cash and the poor hired manager was blamed for weak and irresponsible management by all the partners.

Doing business with friends have probably given me the most difficult moments. Over the years, I have lost a friend or two when I had to make a tough call. It is even more difficult when family members are involved.

On hind sight, I should have been more transparent with them. Thegweilo approach of being upfront with your expectations and having clear defined roles and responsibilities will prevent any misunderstanding in the future. Nothing personal. Strictly business.

As an entrepreneur, you are always evaluating options on partnership issues. Is it better to have partners or to go it alone? If you go public, you will have to answer to hundreds or thousands of partner shareholders. Are you up to it?

If you are on your own, you only answer to yourself. This is my ideal entrepreneurship model.

But if you need financing or certain set skills, then you will have to engage in a partnership of necessity. There will be an increased element of uncertainty as now you not only have to grow the business but you have to learn how to manage other shareholder expectations. Learn to leave your ego outside when you walk into the meeting room. You are only as good as your last financial year.

Partnership of convenience is normally short term in nature. Team up, make money then split up. Until the next opportunity comes along. This partnership works particularly well if all partners have mutual trust and are contented with their fair share of spoils. In times of global and political uncertainty, this approach reduces risk in addition to a quicker turnaround return on investment.

Who would have thought that PAS and DAP will engage in a partnership of convenience? With ideologies poles apart, they have mutual distrust and like all politicians, are never contented with their fair share of spoils.

Sniffing the possibility of more success, they are now engaged in a partnership of necessity. Which makes them look like an odd couple. Throw in PKR and we now have a mish mash offering of rojak to the poor suffering voters.

With a GE 13 menu of either rojak or Barisan’s nasi campur minus the beef, voters will have to make a choice. Chances are, the poor rakyat will go hungry for another 5 years. While the partners of greed continue to feast upon the wealth of the nation. Santa Claus is indeed coming to town. The season of giving has just started.

To all entrepreneurs, Merry Christmas.

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