Complex deals: What can the Pont du Gard teach us about business partnerships?

Pont du Gard, Nimes, France

Pont du Gard, Nimes, France

As a symbol of the Roman’s engineering prowess, the Pont du Gard, completed in 18 B.C., is protected today as a UNESCO World Heritage site. From its perfectly proportioned piers to its two tiers of symmetrical arches, the bridge reminds us of how detailed, innovative and organized the Romans were. Considering the century, the hierarchy of partners and players it took to collaborate and coordinate the design, engineering and construction is quite remarkable. Involved were Roman officials, architects, mathematicians, engineers, surveyors, militia and laborers.

Complex deals: What can the Pont du Gard teach us about business partnerships?

In the development of any relationship, timing is important – agreeing on vision, knowing when to question, when to listen, when to sell, when to push, when to step aside or when to just wait for better timing. When the business partnership involves more than two entities or a single transaction of assets and becomes complex with multiple partners each bringing a different value/asset to the collaboration, then timing becomes ultra critical. In fact, a chess game analogy and visual might have been more informative than the Pont du Gard, but let’s press forward anyway.  Add to the mix both public and private partners and you now have a new level of politicking with which to contend as well.

One such complex partnership comes to mind. The entire deal or project as it were, took more than two years of development. It began as a simple 1:1 entity discussion, but quickly expanded when the potential for greater value thru the combined efforts of both partners became apparent. You see, one partner represented a network of member organizations, which all shared similar challenges that could be solved by the services of the other original partner. The situation quickly went from a 1:1 relationship to a 1 to “many,” which is a great way to grow and scale a business, of course. However, creating a collaboration with more than two entities starts ratcheting up the cost and complexity factor. In this particular case study, the network partner wanted to broaden its reach and create more value for its members. So, it lobbied and invited support from new stakeholders who shared the same vision, including government agencies, to the collaboration table to help with the cost and sweeten the quality of the deliverable for everyone involved. Rather than the group of partners deciding to move forward together with a unified agreement however, each entity required its own set of terms which meant separate agreements. Based on political hierarchy, agreements ended up being staggered as one partner would wait for a more “senior” partner to sign off on the collaboration before committing. Eventually, with some of the key anchor agreements in place, the development of the collaboration began.

This project remains in development as of this posting so I have no results to share with you today, except to say that while complex partnerships are a lot of work for all parties and take a lot more time and patience, a shared vision may be the single most important element – basically, it’s the glue that holds it together and propels it forward.

Share a complex partnership you’ve experienced.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Rebuilding: what can London Bridge teach us about partnerships?

London Bridge - from UK to US

London Bridge – from UK to US

London Bridge could easily be called the bridge of four lives. We are most familiar with it because of the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down, falling down,…”
Life 1) in disrepair it was pulled down by the Vikings in 1014 and this is when the rhyme originated.

Life 2) the next version “Old London Bridge” was completed in 1209 and lasted 600 years.

Life 3) in disrepair again, it was replaced in 1831 and made of granite. Alas, the soil beneath its foundation could not support the weight and usage. The bridge was sinking one inch every eight years.

Life 4) in need of being removed and replaced yet again, the city of London sought to sell the bridge and find a way to preserve its heritage and cultural value. About 1968, the bridge was bought, dismantled, shipped and rebuilt over Lake Havasu in Arizona, U.S., by American entrepreneur/developer, Robert P. McCulloch. London Bridge was thus reincarnated and began its fourth life in 1971 in a new country over new waters.

On rebuilding: What can the London Bridge teach us about business partnerships?

Over time, partnerships like bridges can become in need of repair. And, if it’s not completely broken, most partnerships can be repaired and strengthened in the process. This is especially the case when the individuals in the partner entities still desire to do business together. Causes for repair fall into a variety of categories, including:

• No longer a fit because of business evolution – before ending a partnership are there other assets that were not used originally that can be pulled in to rebuild it?

• Underutilization – this can create opportunity to explore solutions, make improvements and develop new value for all partners

• Overutilization which can’t effectively scale in its current structure – this can be seen as a good problem if there’s evidence of high customer demand and is, therefore, an opportunity to insert new technology or additional partners to help it better scale

• New partners emerge that cause a ripple of changes in existing partnerships – this can happen with a change in key individuals within the existing partner entities or with actual new businesses that enter a partnership agreement on either side which can create a sense of instability in the original structure. New partners and/or new key leaders give rise to fresh and innovative conversations. Time to gather all parties to rebuild alignment, understanding and to agree on plans for future growth.

• Financial difficulties challenging one or both partners – this is a time for honesty and transparency. If there’s still desire to continue the partnership then compromises, investments, short term modifications, additional partners or improved processes can sometimes help in bridging over the rough waters.

Share a partnership that broke and how you repaired it.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /

To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Collateral Damage: What can the Mostar Bridge teach us about business partnerships?


Mostar Bridge, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Even though there was an agreement in place, made during WWII to not destroy property of cultural heritage, the 400 year old single arch Mostar Bridge, located in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was blown up in 1993 during the Bosnian conflict. The city of Mostar, once a peaceful symbol of intermingled communities of different faiths, was ripped in two during the conflict. In addition to innocent lives lost, the centuries old culture and its artifacts were also mourned as collateral damage.

Collateral Damage: What can the Mostar Bridge (1566-1993) teach us about business partnerships?

Strategy and culture are important elements to align in any partnership, acquisition or merger.

Consider a partnership in which you have spent countless hours and months bringing on board; socializing the objectives and effort with the respective implementation teams that come to value each other as collegiate partners, and the customers who eventually get to benefit from the combined solution created by the partnership. Then one day, an acquisition is announced and the copacetic partner relationship you and the team had worked so hard on developing and which was showing positive results becomes suddenly irrelevant to the larger business strategy. Your superior tells you to reduce or stop your time spent on the deployment of the joint effort because it’s no longer a priority. Without a strong focus on management, maintenance and delivery of the partnered solution, employees and customers start to feel sidelined or worse—forgotten.

Is this collateral damage necessary?

Perhaps not. Had the acquiring company or partners taken more time to understand and value each other’s strategies and culture, they might have taken a different approach. One famous example is that of Quaker Oats which acquired the newcomer of the time, Snapple in 1994. So excited to get Snapple in all the major grocery chains, Quaker deployed a costly marketing campaign which was an epic failure. Snapple was not a hit in the big grocery market and it suffered collateral damage in its niche market of small, private, mom and pop stores that had made it so popular in the first place. Quaker underestimated the strength of Snapple’s strategy and culture.

FYI: In the case of a hostile takeover, strategy and culture go out the window, and there can be devastating and costly collateral damage in the form of employee layoffs and severed customer and partner contracts. I’m not keen on experiencing this destructive strategy and hope you haven’t had to experience it either.

Share a partnership lost or destroyed due to acquisition or merger.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Whose lens? What can Hell Gate Bridge teach us about partnerships?

Hell Gate Bridge

Hell Gate, New York, NY

Hell Gate Bridge (1916) is New York City’s oldest of its eight bridges. It was originally named after what the Dutch sailors called the narrow and treacherous river section that the bridge connects (Astoria, Queens and Ward’s Island). The Dutch are but one interesting perspective of this bridge. Also called the East River Arch bridge, one can be inside its cement towers looking out through an arch and feel as though you’re in an enclosed room with no notion of a river below you. Most interesting was the perspective taken into account on the final design of the bridge. Originally conceived as a full steel bridge with crisscrossed piers, it was seen by authorities as a potentially easy escape for criminals kept in the nearby correctional facility and for patients of the Ward’s Island Psychiatric Hospital. Therefore, the final design called for cement piers and towers that would make it difficult for individuals to climb.

Whose lens? What can Hell Gate Bridge teach us about partnerships?

For whom are you building the partnership? There are many lenses to look thru when considering a business partnership—your own and the partner’s, of course, plus your respective customers (external and internal), owners, shareholders, competitors and other existing partners.

Keeping the objectives for the partnership in mind will help you prioritize the various perspectives that need to be considered. Weighing the value of any partnership, as with all efforts, is best summarized as time, costs and quality. The challenge is that each partner’s time, costs and quality will likely be affected and valued differently.  The solution is for the trade-offs to be seen as fair to achieving the respective objectives of each partner.

For example, if partners see the opportunity as revenue generating, then customers and prospects are priority lens #1. However, even if revenue is the top objective, but one partner brings technology enhancement to the agreement while the other partner contributes a strong client base, then there could be competing priority perspectives. Partnering when technology is the shared asset carries many perspectives that need to be considered, including legal rights and usage surrounding the intellectual property, engineering bandwidth to manage the technology transaction, and the end-user experience.

If the objective is for broader market reach and awareness, and the traded assets in the partnership have less direct impact on revenue enhancement, such as information, data or brand recognition, then the priority of the perspectives may include potential customers and, to a much lesser degree, the internal teams that must manage and deploy the new assets.

Note that not all stakeholders will be supportive of a new partnership. Presenting the business challenge with the partnership solution and distinguishing the objectives alongside the time, costs, and quality (estimated ROI), will help your stakeholders understand and hopefully support the plan.

Share a partnership that required you to look thru a different and perhaps difficult lens. 

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Due diligence: What can the Garabit Viaduct teach us about partnerships?

Garabit Viaduct

Garabit Viaduct, Saint-Flour, France

What do the Eiffel Tower and the Garabit Viaduct have in common? Their designer/engineer, Gustave Eiffel. The story behind the Garabit Viaduct (1884) near Saint-Flour in France is about research and testing. Until the famous tower in Paris was constructed, Eiffel was better known as a bridge builder and expert in aerodynamics – quite important when bridges need to withstand strong winds. Eiffel studied wind action by setting up meteorological stations throughout France to collect data on aerodynamics. His bridge design, engineering talent and especially the completion of the Garabit Viaduct were essentially warm ups to his famed success in designing the Eiffel Tower. Years later in 1912, he continued his wind studies and built France’s first aerodynamics lab.

Due diligence: What can the Garabit Viaduct teach us about partnerships?

How do you know if the partnership you’re considering will achieve the desired objectives? While you cannot know for sure, the due diligence you do prior to inking an agreement will help you have the confidence to take the decision. Not all partnerships call for the same level of scrutiny. Where money and/or technology are exchanged there is a longer list of research and testing that’s generally followed than, as an example, for a partnership that serves as a validation of your significance in the marketplace.

If you’ll be sharing information with the partner beyond what you’d be willing to share with your next door neighbor, you will want to have signatures by all partners on a Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement (MNDA). Here are some of the main areas for due diligence after the MNDA is signed:

  1. Financial stability – Are both partners able to cover the costs of the partnership without harming the respective businesses? If not, compensation may need to be built into the agreement.
  2. Technology and intellectual property – Is the partner’s technology as good as they say it is? Test it.
  3. Customers, sales and service – Will the partner treat your customers as well as you treat them? Talk to some.
  4. Strategic and staff alignment – Do your missions align and do you serve similar or complementary customers? Is there complementary staff at both organizations to share the effort to build the partnership?
  5. Regulatory issues – This might only apply if you’re in a highly regulated industry where questions of antitrust and sharing trade secrets might be called into question.
  6. Reputation in the marketplace – This is especially important if the partnership is going to be visible to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Visit with your own stakeholders and understand what they think of your potential partner.
  7. Insurance – This is not usually needed for a business partnership, but you may want to consider the terms for termination as an opportunity to write in some insurance, aka safeguards, regarding the shared and borrowed assets should the relationship itself breakdown.

Share a standard step you take in your due diligence efforts.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Appearance over function: What can the Rialto Bridge teach us about partnerships?

Rialto Bridge, Venice, Italy                   (image source: destination360.c0m)

Venice’s best known bridge and its oldest, the Rialto Bridge, was completed in 1591. Not always the most architecturally admired by the experts because of its awkward style. Today it serves as an icon rising to a point over the center of the Grand Canal. Despite its funky appearance, people the world over hold a passion for the bridge whose style is not often replicated in other bridges. From a functional standpoint, the Rialto conceals a road and two rows of shops on either side of the road. If you are unfortunate to not have time to cross the Rialto, the impressive appearance from the Canal below will no doubt still satisfy the “OMG, I’m actually in Venice” validation you desire.

Appearance over function: What can the Rialto Bridge teach us about partnerships?

New businesses will find this lesson most helpful. When you haven’t yet developed a respectable track record of business success or notable clients, sometimes the next best thing is to associate yourself with businesses and experts that have. These associations or partnerships serve more for early appearance sake than direct profitable function. They place you in the environment in which you wish to be doing business, and create a perception of market validation, albeit sometimes indirect.

Many examples exist. Years ago, I served as a publicist for professional speakers. One of a speaker’s most important tools for attracting speaking engagements is to have authored a book relative to their subject matter. It is basically their “calling card” and serves as credibility that they’re an “expert” in their field. The book is touted in all their sales pitches, sold at the back of the room after the presentation, and is prominently featured and sold from the speaker’s website. By all appearances, the book elevates the speaker to the professional level that they anticipate will result in achieving their speaking fee and desired publicity. Meanwhile, what’s the appearance of a new speaker if he/she hasn’t published a book? They’re an amateur.

It’s common practice for new speakers who haven’t yet authored their book to initially ride on the coattails of successful speakers by partnering with them in a variety of ways:

  1. Blog and post with links to the successful speaker’s events, books and website
  2. Agree ahead of time that the successful speaker will re-share, comment, endorse and otherwise “like” the new speaker’s posting content
  3. Sell successful speakers’ books on the new speaker’s website and at back of presentation room
  4. Offer to join the successful speaker on his/her speaking circuit as a “warm up” presentation for the audience
  5. Request a forward and/or book jacket review of the new speaker’s book when ready to publish
  6. Develop a fee agreement for the professional speaker’s marketing distribution of the new speaker’s book

Common to general new businesses, the right appearance can come from:

  1. Partner page on website that includes recognized names and logos of successful businesses that you have talked to about partnering and who give permission to publicize their good name
  2. Advisory Board  that is comprised of highly respected experts and who have given permission for photo and bio to be added to business website
  3. Consultants under contract who are well known and respected for their expertise
  4. Co-posting references and citations between the new company and the consultants, partners, and advisory board members, in order to leverage existing followers of more well known partners
  5. Attendance at exclusive/special events where you can be seen in the company of successful professionals and prospects in your field

In all cases, it is mandatory that the new business use its affiliation responsibly and with integrity, referencing its association with experts and partners in the desired manner agreed upon and to audiences that benefit all parties.

What appearances of success have you found useful?

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Multi-purpose: What can the Ponte Vecchio teach us about partnerships?

Pont Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio: lesson about multi-purpose in a business partnership

When is a bridge more than a bridge?  When it’s the Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy. Completed in 1345, the Ponte Vecchio has served its walled city and occupants in multiple ways. It was originally designed to connect the two halves of the city and bring the community together serving as a social hub, street, marketplace and public “square.” Over the centuries, like a small house in need of repair and expansion, there have been many annexes and add-ons made to the bridge, giving it less of a bridge look and more like an eclectic shopping mall.

Multi-purpose: What can the Ponte Vecchio teach us about partnerships?

Since the Ponte Vecchio was one of the few surviving bridges in Florence during WWII, it might be said that it served important additional purposes and would, therefore, be non-strategic to destroy. In a business partnership, it’s often the case that each partner brings multiple complementary assets to the relationship. It’s also likely that over the length of the relationship, some of those assets become less important or perhaps complete thorns in the overall scope of the shared work. At that point, it’s wise to sit down and have a strategic conversation about 1) is the “thorny” asset a partnership breaker? 2) hopefully not, so how can it be sidelined to no longer impact the overall effectiveness of the working relationship?  Ultimately, a good business partnership that continues to provide value to its end users and creators and, in which trust and genuine interest in each other’s success is still solid, will lead partners to finding a solution to annex the problem asset and build a stronger bridge over it.

In the SaaS (software as a solution) field, we often build APIs (application programming interface) between partners, basically technical bridges to communicate information and data between two entities. While we may have initially created pathways for multiple areas of information to be shared for a variety of purposes (technical, operational, data sharing, sales channel, marketing content), we have on occasion discovered that over time, certain streams of information aren’t really producing the expected results or efficiencies for one partner or the other. This is one area where a good API management strategy is helpful. The results can be valuable and measured against strategy and appropriate changes in the API can then be reviewed and made.

Share a partnership in which an asset had to be removed or bridged over to save the relationship?

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Game-changing ingredient: the Iron Bridge and transformational partnerships?

What can the Iron Bridge, UK, teach us about transformational partnerships?

Completed in 1779, the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, England was the first major structure made entirely from cast iron. Stronger than wood and more flexible than stone, its enduring strength to survive flooding and centuries of use has earned it the reputation as an important symbol of the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. From the first flood it weathered, the Severn River flood of 1795, the Iron Bridge was quickly acknowledged by engineers for its innovation which ushered in further iron structures. Cast iron and the steam engine are generally cited as two of the most important innovations that connected economy, technology and social developments in a way that had never been done before.

Game-changing ingredient: What can the Iron Bridge teach us about transformational partnerships?

If you think about what makes a long lasting successful partnership, be it personal or B2B, the key ingredient is the same. Both parties must first like each other and have complementary interests and vision. Even if it’s a B2B arrangement, the CEOs, managers and operating staff need to feel synergy about their shared objectives and each other. The adage that “people do business with people they like” always holds true and is the basis for endurance. Where two parties have formed a business arrangement and there is even mild dislike, the relationship will not withstand the challenges and conflict that will naturally occur over time. In this case, dislike manifests as distrust. And, no business or partnership survives in a distrustful environment. It becomes a cancer that eats away through all levels of the partnering organizations, poisoning relationships between employees and management and company to company.

When the right kind of likeability gets established, the synergy between two partners can result in transformational innovation. For example, think about Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Today, one of the strongest new models for partnership is Salesforce’s connected partner ecosystem. Not only does Salesforce win when its partners succeed, but it also fosters partners to partner with each other, forming even tighter bonds and brand loyalty back to Salesforce. This ecosystem and network of partners has been transformational in creating a dynamic market for cloud based solutions and accelerating the information technology era toward our next “revolution” – data analytics. Was synergy and likeability sought as first ingredients between Salesforce and its hundreds of partners? If you’ve ever been to its annual Dreamforce conference which attracts 40k+ people, you’d know the answer is a whopping “yes”!

Share a secret ingredient from one of your successful partnerships.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Making accommodations: What can the Coronado Bridge teach us?

coronado bridge

Making accommodations: Coronado Bridge, San Diego, CA

San Diego, CA is the home of one of the largest U.S. Naval bases with 13 piers stretched over 977 acres of land and 326 acres of water. As a primary port for the Asia/Pacific region, the Navy has always had a very strong voice in public projects in San Diego that might impact the nation’s ability to defend and protect from outside attack. The approval for construction of the Coronado Bridge that connects San Diego to Coronado Island was under fierce debate between the Navy, policy makers and public for more than 40 years before it was finally supported in 1964 and completed in 1969. Initially, the obstacle was the U.S. Navy’s concern that in the event of an earthquake or enemy attack, the possible collapse of the bridge would cut off the Navy’s ability to leave San Diego Bay to do its work. By the 1950s, the Navy came around in its thinking and supported the bridge, but wanted accommodations made in the height to allow 200 feet of clearance for ships operating out of the Naval base. To achieve this clearance and avoid a steep grade, the bridge length was increased by taking a curved path, rather than a direct linear one to Coronado. By completion in August 1969, the bridge was 11,179-foot-long (3,407 m or 2.1 mi) with a 4.67 percent grade before curving 80 degrees toward San Diego from Coronado.

Making accommodations: What can the Coronado Bridge teach us?

Of all the bridges, this story perhaps most closely resembles the true nature of developing a business partnership–seldom a straight line; usually taking several twists and turns. It represents more than a compromise, which does often happen when coming to an agreement in a new relationship. Instead, it’s an accommodation made by the more advantaged partner (usually at some cost), in order to sweeten the arrangement for the other to agree.

I recall one specific partnership in which I had to broaden the targeted audience beyond my enterprise’s core constituency in order to support the interests and participation of the target partner. This meant developing a tangential business relationship to gain market distribution to the new audience. And, as you might imagine, there was an accommodation required by the tangential partner before acquiescing, which included a discounted price point. With agreements in place, a customized marketing communications plan was developed and executed, along with agreed upon metrics to track results for ROI reporting back to the initial partner. The results the first year were less than stellar, but the continued growth of the audience in the long term was seen as an added value to my enterprise’s overall objectives.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges

©2016, All rights reserved /

To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.

Shared vision: San Francisco Golden Gate and public-private partnerships

Golden Gate Bridge

Shared vision: Golden Gate, San Francisco, CA USA

During the Great Depression, the world’s then longest suspension bridge (4200 feet) was constructed to connect San Francisco to Marin County. To finance the bridge, six counties agreed to collectively take out a $35 million bond that would later be repaid through bridge tolls. As part of the bond, residents would be required to put their homes, farms and businesses up as collateral to support the bond and building of the bridge. The citizens voted 3 to 1 in favor of the bond, demonstrating their desire and faith in the project. The Golden Gate opened to pedestrians on May 27, 1937 and to cars the following day, May 28.

Can you imagine trying to get agreement from six counties and thousands of residents in an era of great financial hardship with much fewer means of communication than we have at our fingertips today?

The Golden Gate holds a special place in my memories. I grew up in Marin County and the bridge has and always will be a symbol of my passage from childhood to adulthood. After high school, I left Marin, crossed the Golden Gate and entered UC San Diego to start my adult life. While I still have family in Marin and two sons in San Francisco, I’ve never moved back home, but love to visit and marvel every time I see or cross the Golden Gate.

What does the Golden Gate teach us about public-private partnerships?

  • Create a shared  and compelling vision
  • Carefully consider all the various constituents who have a stake in the project’s success or failure and understand how the result will affect them – both real and sometimes imagined.
  • Have patient, ongoing discussions to bring each stakeholder into the shared vision and mission for the project, recognizing that it’s a process that may take years
  • Openly acknowledge the important financial, technical and operational risk that each stakeholder is assuming with the project
  • Listen, listen, listen and understand all points of view
  • Respond in a tangible way that says “your voice was heard and we listened”
  • Bring different groups of stakeholders together to build mindshare and trust
  • Develop community engagement thru town hall meetings, design reviews, ongoing communiqués and positive news stories and interviews

Tell us about one of your public-private partnership experiences.

Part of a series: Causeways-business insight from the world’s most celebrated bridges
©2016, All rights reserved /
To be clear, you do not have permission to take material from my blog and run it on yours.