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.

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.