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Cultural Friction Can Wear Out Your Partnership
Excerpts from Let's Go Into Business Together: 8 Secrets to Successful Business Partnering

Some entrepreneurs do the business partnership equivalent of getting married after the first date. They rush forward without evaluating more than superficial impressions about their intended partner. Some impulsive business owners enter a partnership because it seems like a good idea at the moment, not giving a whole lot of thought to whether they are well suited for working in a partnership. Some individuals team up with total strangers and others partner with family and close friends. Cautious folks spend months evaluating their partnering decisions, involving a team of lawyers, accountants, and other professionals. Others throw caution to the wind and move forward with little structure or formality.

There are many personal and professional issues to consider in choosing a partner. Among the most sensitive are questions of cultural and religious compatibility. These individuals articulated why considering cultural and religious differences may be a necessary part of your evaluation process:

  • I'm black and my new business partner is white. When we discussed going into business together, I looked for any prejudicial attitudes in his language or casual, off-guard behavior. Of course, he would never admit to such a thing, but it can be unconscious or subtle. I spent several weeks just hanging out with him and his friends, until I felt reassured that this wasn't an issue.

  • I come from a large Italian family. We're very close and all of the adult children live within 20 miles of where I grew up. My partner needs to understand that my large extended family will be dropping by the business all the time. I wouldn't partner with anyone who wouldn't give my family the royal treatment. My family comes before anything.

  • I am an Orthodox Jewish doctor. When I discussed merging my medical practice with two colleagues, I made it clear to them that I wouldn't work from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown, nor on various holidays throughout the calendar unless we had a life-threatening emergency. The "on-call" schedule would have to accommodate my religious commitments or the partnership was not going to work for me.

  • I am a Jewish female. I partnered with an Egyptian man who seemed to be the perfect business match. We were an excellent partnership in terms of our complementary skills, but there was one major problem for me I hadn't predicted. In Egypt, Jewish women are treated like second-class citizens. Even though this gentleman had been in the States for 25 years, his negative stereotypes about women were deeply rooted in his psyche. No matter what the partnership agreement said, he couldn't see me as an equal partner.

Azriela Jaffe is the work and family columnist for Business Week Frontier Online, focusing on issues affecting entrepreneurs and their families. She's the author of several books on the subject and coaches people in business through her firm, Anchored Dreams. For more advice from Jaffe, check out her weekly columns or her Web site.


Reprinted from Let's Go Into Business Together: 8 Secrets to Successful Business Partnering
by Azriela Jaffe.
Copyright 1998, Avon Books Inc.
Reprinted by permission of Azriela Jaffe
All rights reserved.
To order this book, please call 800 236-7323



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