Power in numbers – why partnerships are driving the new rich

feature-pairs-200When looking for future members of the rich list, it always pays to keep an eye on the fast-growth companies coming through the ranks. The top 50 from StartupSmart’s recent StartupSmart Awards looks like fertile ground to me, with half of the companies on the list hitting the $1 million revenue mark in their first four years of operation.

There are some great trends from the list, but one I picked up was a shift towards starting companies in partnership – 31 of the top 50 companies had more than one founder.

The trend towards starting and growing a business in partnership is also reflected on BRW’s Young Rich list, where 30 members of the 100 richest people under 40 are in a joint listing.

A number of these partnerships are family-based – brothers, and husbands and wives are the most common.

But in the top 50 of the list, a number of non-family dynamic duos stand out:

  • Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar of software group Atlassian (valued at $360 million)
  • Jim Campbell and Brenton Euler of Pipe & Civil Construction ($83 million)Guy King and Bevan Clarke of RetailmeNot.com fame ($77 million)
  • Andrew Barlow and Adrian Giles, founders of Hitwise, ($69 million)
  • Leigh Jasper and Robert Phillpot of software group Aconex ($60 million)
  • Stuart Marburg and Richard Preen, founders of Netspace ($45 million)
  • Richard Poulson and Kylie Radford, founders of women’s clothing brand Morrison ($42 million)

It’s an impressive list, featuring some of the genuine stars of Australia’s tech scene. But it does underline a big downside to the partnership model – few of these entrepreneurs are likely to make the rich list in their own right, at least for a while.

But it’s not impossible. Let’s meet five of the most enduring partnerships of the Australian rich lists and learn a few of the lessons that make working with someone else great.

I’ve stuck with non-family member duos, who do not share the blood ties that make family partnerships so unique.

1. Complementary skills matter Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer

The founders of iconic Victorian surfwear brand Ripcurl, Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer, were fast friends when they decided to try their hands at making wetsuits for the growing legion of surfers in 1967. As the business expanded, it became clear that gaining endorsements from professional surfers would be key and the two partners’ unique skills shone.

Singer had the connections to the surfing fraternity, while Warbrick was in charge of production of the wetsuits. “Doug and I have benefited from a very give-and-take relationship – we are different but have complementary traits,” Singer said a few years ago.

It’s a key lesson for would-be partners – having different areas of expertise allows each partner to focus on their own patch and gives everyone a bit of room to breathe.

2. Put getting along first – Tony Haggarty and Andy Plummer

Coal miners Tony Haggarty and Andy Plummer have a long and successful partnership, working together to build their fortunes from Excel Coal and Whitehaven Coal. The pair, who were friends before they teamed up, have learned that they will not pursue an opportunity unless there is unanimous agreement. The times they haven’t done this have ended with “time and money wasted” Plummer told BRW in 2010. “Getting along is more important than having successes,” he said.

If you want a lasting partnership, it’s a very good policy.

3. Stay close – David Goldberger and David Wieland

Has an entrepreneurial partnership ever suffered a worse few years? David Goldberger and David Wieland have faced the collapse of parts of their empire, a series of legal battles and the sale of big chunks of their well-known DFO chain. But, by all reports, the partners remain together and their fuel business, Liberty Oil, is still going strong.

Partnerships always require the two people to be close in everything they do, but the two Davids are on another level – they actually live right next door to each other. “We bought a block of land and it was a good financial deal,” Goldberger told BRW. “Instead of selling it to someone else, we just divided the land and didn’t worry that we were next door. We are good mates, the best of friends.”

4. Act like family, even if you aren’t one Peter Mattick and Philip Salter

I’ve always loved the partnership story of Peter Mattick and Philip Salter, founders of the Salmat mail and marketing business. The pair, who were school friends, had a retail menswear company before starting Salmat based partly on an idea from Salter’s father.

In an interview in 2009, Mattick said running a small family business is “the best spot in the world because you know everyone personally, you know their kids. You’re not big enough that you’re a threat to anyone and you can make a good, solid living. It’s a big decision to go to the next level, for example, to go interstate. Those decisions come at a cost in terms of both financing and energy.” Salmat clearly went to the next level, but Mattick and Salter constantly reinforced its family business roots.

5. Endure – Max Moar and Iris Lustig-Moar

One of the more unusual rich list partnerships is that of property developers Max Moar and Iris Lustig-Moar. The pair were once married and Max was in business with Iris’ father, legendary Melbourne develop Ted Lustig.

The couple divorced in 1999, but when Ted died in 2003, Iris became more actively involved in the business. Iris and Moar are listed as co-directors of the Lustig & Moar Group, which goes to show that some partnerships can survive even the most testing of circumstances.


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