Is it going to be a corporate near-death experience or the real thing? Will the office romance end in tears? Will the child prodigy rewrite the publisher’s fortunes? Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode.
Catalogue of errors Part III
This week: A marriage disintegrates, there’s an affair with the office manager but ever so slowly, common ground is found in the shape of two spurned ex-girlfriends.
During the implosion of our small publishing company, Frank’s marriage disintegrated. He’d been married for 10 years and had a young son, a lovely lad whom I’ve known from birth.
My already strained relationship with him was exacerbated by my friendship with his wife (no, we weren’t that close) and by what I thought was a play by my ex-girlfriend for my now separated business partner (he later confirmed that my suspicions were right).
As they say in the business schools, the worst-case scenario was bearing down on me: a failing business and a troubled business partner, manipulated in the shadows by a vengeful ex-girlfriend. I was ready to walk.
Then, as so often seems to happen, at one’s lowest ebb I got lucky. My business partner started having an affair with our new office manager. At first, I was appalled by the prospect. I’d left corporate life to rid myself of these complications. No matter how these situations were handled, I knew it would have to be handled by me, and by this stage I’d had enough.
Fortunately, by the time I’d received a letter from this Jenny-come-lately telling me that I was treating her very “disrespectfully”, it had become apparent that she was another absolutely woeful appointment. Everyone agreed she had to go.
A few weeks later the relationship ended, punctuated by her asking for the return of an expensive watch she’d given Frank as a present. Surprisingly, now my business partner and I had something in common again: spurned girlfriends. Smidgin by smidgin, relations began to improve.
To his eternal credit, during all of this Frank hadn’t lost sight of what we needed to do to recover the business, if not our relationship. He’d recognised that having two MDs wasn’t working and that if we were to make anything of the business I probably had more chance of doing so than him.
Our friendship had complicated things from the very start but that was now much less of a problem. The challenge was how to progress.
At a time when many people would have dug their heels in, Frank didn’t just yield, he offered me more equity in the business to keep me there. It was a smart move. He knew I’d feel a greater responsibility to make things work if I was the majority shareholder and he also recognised that it was the only way to disentangle our personal history from our professional relationship.
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He told me he was happy to be consulted on major decisions but the final decision on everything was mine. This resolved the nub of the issue and it’s a real credit to him that he took this stance. Lesser characters, with bigger egos and greater self-regard, would never have taken such a step. I decided to stay and commit afresh to the business.
Under our new arrangement, my first job was to find someone to write the publication. Here, I got lucky again. A young whipper snapper of a lad at 24, he’d managed his parents’ super fund for a number of years and told me that he begun reading The Australian Financial Review at age 14.
This rather alarming fact was later put in context when he told me he also taught guitar. Obviously, this bloke’s inner life wasn’t all material. He was a voracious reader and a contrarian thinker. We got on well.
His appointment became a turning point not just in the fortunes of the business but for those who worked for it and those who shelled out their hard-earned to read what we produced (naturally, these three things have a great deal in common). He’s now one of the co-owners after Frank and I sold out, but that’s another story.
In the final instalment in two weeks, I’ll reflect on this strange course of events and tell you what I think I learned. But here’s a clue: It has a lot to do with a ‘c’ word.
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Paul Holland in the UK writes: A great tale and a hell of a lot of experience gained from it too. I’m guessing your a decent chap and you, like myself, expect it natural to become friends with people you do business with and for. This can ultimately lead to the experience of having people whom you consider friends actually become people that let you down too. There can be nothing worse that a friend that let’s you down. In business you need trust but even more so in friendships. I can see how your/our approach leads to difficulties in managing a business and people.
I’m going to use a few ‘c’ words here though: It certainly makes ‘c’ontrol very difficult, ‘c’ommand especially difficult, and ‘c’ommunication, if not difficult at least more sensitive. However, having resolved the situation you describe so effectively, I think you can throw in another ‘c’ word – contentment. I think you can look back on your experience and how you handled it with a good dose of self respect, leadership and ultimately, plain old altruism. When can I come and work for you?