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What Works for Navy Seals Might Kill Your Business

Navy Seals know a thing or two about building productive teams. A key principle of their productivity is the “buddy system”. But what works for our Navy Seals can cause problems in a business setting.

Mike (not his real name) and I had been buddies for about ten years. Close friends. He graduated from pharmacy school the same year I graduated from law school. Though we were taking different career paths, we wanted to find a way to do something together in business. We decided to buy a five-unit apartment building. We co-signed the loan, made the purchase, and launched our careers as aspiring real estate moguls.

Since the building was closer to me than Mike, I ended up doing most of the work. You know — interface with tenants, repair people, etc. But that was ok, I enjoyed it and I knew Mike was busy with his new pharmacy.

That’s how buddies are supposed to work. When going through Navy Seal training, each trainee has a buddy (another trainee). When diving in murky water, skydiving at night, or swimming in rough, shark-infested ocean waters, your buddy is there to help you, and you are there to help your buddy. You don’t let him down and he won’t let you down.

In business, it seems the buddy system works great, until priorities change. Mike and I were indeed buddies, but one day he called to tell me his banker told him he had to get off the apartment building loan if he was going to get a loan to expand his pharmacy. Mike needed my help by taking him off the loan, but by helping Mike, I was going to have to sell the real estate to pay off the bank loan. Our plan ended about a year after it began.

Mike made the right decision for his pharmacy business, but in so doing, he wrecked our plan to stay connected and build real estate value together. Though we didn’t end our relationship on a contentious basis, it was never the same after that. Buddies no more, acquaintances perhaps. All I have now are the memories of good times and dreams of what might have been.

It’s been a recurring theme of my weekly stories that friends doing business together is dangerous for the friendship. In fact, based on years and years of observation, I’m not a fan of partnerships of any kind. People’s interests and objectives change, and that can wreck careers and relationships. A Navy Seal wants and needs his buddy at all times, but in business, your buddy might just become your albatross.


JIM CUMBEE is President of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc. a retainer-based business brokerage and transition mediation firm in Franklin, TN. Cumbee is an attorney and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences that make him one of the most sought-after business transition advisors in the state of Tennessee. The names and fact patterns above have been changed to preserve the parties’ identities.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."

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