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Why I’d Choose a Woman Business Partner Every Time?

by Tony Robinson OBE | shared from SME-Blog


I think that hissing is the sound of knives flying through the air aimed at my back. This is where I may upset most business women and most business men. I’ll be accused of stereotyping and other words I find difficult to spell. I’m old but not wise – who knew?

However, I just can’t help but think that more women led businesses survive and thrive and that more men led businesses lead to massive corruption and tragic loss of livelihoods and communities. I firmly believe that if more business support, employment, enterprise and training policies had been developed by women business owners than ‘sector and business leaders (men)’, male Ministers and male senior civil servants the UK wouldn’t be the basket case of an economy and society that it is today.

I’ve been running businesses for thirty years and my own businesses for twenty seven years. I’ve experienced a lot and seen a lot of enterprise research in that time too. I admit to bias. I’ve been lucky to have as my business partner, Clare Francis, for all those twenty seven years and I know we wouldn’t still be in business today if I’d chosen any of my male colleagues to partner. There have been many male colleagues who have suggested how unwise I was to partner Clare and that they’d build a much better business with me. I know they are proven to be wrong.

Eighteen months ago, after twelve months of testing, I co-founded the fabulous, global Enterprise Rockers Community with Tina Boden. Tina is the only person I know that has the energy, charisma, ability and confidence to risk her own money, with mine, to achieve our dream for this self help, Power-Of-Plenty, Band of micro enterprise owners everywhere.

Against these two excellent partnerships I’ve had one failure, though the business continues to be very successful without me, with a superb businesswoman – where our views and values just didn’t coincide. I also know that if I’d run a business with my fabulous wife of 35 years, Eileen, it would have been a disaster. So it looks like my women-as-business-partners success rate is a 2-2 draw. So why am I convinced it is usually better to choose a woman business partner than a man?

Before Your Very Eyes – observation and evidence

Firstly, let me say of three male business heroes I have, that I’ve met and talked to, Lord Sugar; Tim Campbell MBE and Gordon Roddick that only the latter was in business partnership with a woman. Of the many more male business heroes I’ve not met, including Sir Richard Branson, to my knowledge not one was in business partnership with a woman. I’d contend that these are exceptions rather than prove the rule.

The rule I learned from Professor Tom Cannon. Tom is often seen on television talking about football finances but he is a leading academic on entrepreneurship, leadership and management. He’s a brilliant speaker too and about fifteen years ago he told an audience, including me, that he was convinced that research showed that the best thing for surviving and thriving in your own business was for a man to have a woman business partner and a woman to choose a woman business partner, rather than a man.

Now those knives are already hurting so I’m not going to list the positive qualities that I think more women bring to a start up business than a man does. However, I will risk saying that I’ve observed, over the fifteen years since Professor Cannon awakened me to the possibilities, the following traits that have led to ‘own business’ failure more often in men led businesses than in women led or woman-man partnerships.

The List (Outrageous I know):

Borrowing for Bad Reasons The editor of this Business Blog, highly successful entrepreneur, Stefan Topfer and I give the same advice to all potential start ups. If you can, ‘Bootstrap don’t borrow’ and it’s unlikely you’ll know what money you need or what to do with the money until you’ve test traded. I really worry about the Government and Banks Start Up Loan scheme for this reason.

However, I’ve seen far too many men convinced by the ‘robustness’ of their business plan invest in all the things that make them feel good but make little business sense at all. I won’t list them but a friend calls them ‘Cars, computers, carpets and curtains merchants’ – they spend more on the business looking good than they do on winning and keeping customers.

Taking too much out of the business Salaries before they’re earned, insurances, pensions, private health, expenses, status purchases, personal assistants … it’s a long list.

Not putting enough into the business too much posing and preening and not enough productivity. I’ve often seen an unwillingness to really get their hands dirty – that is some tasks seem beneath them. A start up requires the business owners to do everything in the business and never to ask anyone to do something that they would not do themselves.

Business Idea first rather than Customer First Many times I’ve seen men that have held senior positions in the public or private sector convince themselves that their business idea and business plan is so good it cannot help but succeed. It’s madness but it is amazingly common madness. It is only customers paying the price you need to make the profit that will allow you to earn a living that determines the viability of your business. It can take eighteen months or more from start up to find this successful formula. Flexibility in attitude and infrastructure are essential.

Corporate mentality and inflexibility Says it all? Corporate careers are built on looking good and managing the politics. Business education teaches functional disciplines for corporate careers. None of this will help you with the skills and know how to start and run your own business.Empire building falls into this category too. Many men seem to enjoy hiring and firing to the detriment of their business. Collaborate with other freelancers and business owners – only recruit if you have to.

My all time favourite academic on start ups, micro and small businesses is Professor Allan Gibb. He tells a story of how a male business adviser completely confused and frightened his daughter who was looking to start her own business. I’ve seen start ups over complicated by men far too many times – with sorry results.

Gambling excessively Of course there is a need for risk taking in any enterprise. However, as someone who loves gambling, I know that the betting industry and the financial services sector and government are male dominated pleasure palaces. In start ups, micro and small business partnerships gambling is not a good idea.

I apologise for the generalisations but I have seen what I have seen. It is why I’d choose a woman business partner every time.


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