Finding ideal business partners

Sep 24, 2018

Picking the ideal business partner or partners is an inexact science, but a critical one nevertheless. The subject of how people find business partners in the AEC industry is one that is rarely discussed. Usually, two or more people work together in a company – or went to school together – or were in the same fraternity – or grew up together – and they decide to start a business together. Sometimes that works out well – other times not so well.

In the New Venture Development classes I teach at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, my students work in teams to develop business plans for a hypothetical new venture. For years, I let them pick their own teams. I eventually realized I could do a better job than they could when a team of five fraternity brothers, all from North Dallas, all majoring in marketing (or a similar situation) would come together. And without exception, these kinds of homogeneous teams performed poorly compared to those with a greater diversity of talent in terms of background and academic majors.

I point this out because there’s relevance to our business – the AEC industry. Many people do the same thing as my students when assembling their teams. They look for others just like themselves. People of the same age and education level that they are or think they can be friends with. And these people are usually not the best partners.

Just like in a marriage, what tends to work best is to find people who are quite a bit different from yourself. This way, the skills of each complement each other versus compete with one another. This way, who fills what role will be a natural situation. The firm will be stronger. The combined skillsets and personality attributes will be a better situation than a firm run by two or more people who are the same.

I just wish more people realized this. Our management consulting assignments in firms of all sizes and types within the AEC industry often evidence problems with the roles and relationships of the business’s partners or principals. I think a lot of problems that partners have working together in AEC firms would be eliminated if these decisions were given greater consideration. Picking a business partner in some ways is as critical of a decision as that of a life partner. You may spend more time with this person than you do those in your real family. It should be a decision that isn’t made quickly or without significant due diligence, study, and time.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

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About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.