The power of collaboration

One life lesson learned early in my business career was to surround myself with smart people — and the results speak for themselves.

A byproduct of an innovative and creative management team is the exploration of how to improve on an already well-oiled machine. What has been my formula? Enter the power of collaboration.

Taking a hard look

Many businesses today have experienced organic growth, while others have done so through acquisition or aggressive new business development initiatives.

For 115 years, Fernley & Fernley grew organically. Our clients typically came and stayed. At one point, the average account was with us for almost 24 years, something rarely found in today’s competitive business climate.

About a decade ago, however, I came to the epiphany that for F&F to continue to grow, we needed to take a hard look at our service delivery model. We had to evaluate what we did well and what could be done better and more efficiently.

Making a philosophical shift

The answer came quickly — create joint ventures and outsourcing partnerships as a fast track strategy for growth. It was a philosophical shift for a firm that had rarely outsourced any management services, and we’ve never looked back.

Growth through acquisition also remains an integral part of our strategy.

In fact, in 2006, F&F purchased another association management company that specialized in an all-new market that we had targeted — the medical and health care arena. It proved to be a low-risk venture, a great investment that positioned us as a player in this growth market. Here was an initial collaboration with a competitor that led to an acquisition.

Was there a defining moment when F&F launched the joint venture concept? To be honest, no. My rationale was fairly simplistic, namely:

  • A recognition and awareness that time and resources (within our firm and others) continue to be stretched.
  • A vision that our clients’ needs were changing and we needed to be nimble enough to change with them.
  • An awareness that our clients’ needs would grow exponentially as the membership composition diversified, requiring a broad set of service delivery offerings and models.
  • A realization that a need to broaden our scope of management services was going to be required by the changing customer base.


F&F needed to position itself as a total solution provider. That is to say, we would be the central point for all client needs, whether we provided the service in-house or outsourced it.

Learning from the past

Throughout this process, there are some lessons I’ve learned from the trenches on joint ventures:

  • Pick your joint venture partner carefully.
  • Educate them on your industry and clients (both internal and external).
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Allow them to fail, but only once.
  • Be sure they are a cultural fit.
  • Hold them accountable.

The power of collaboration through joint venture relationships should be part of any growth strategy going forward. Great opportunities exist by embracing this concept; so don’t sit on the sidelines. Be aggressive and watch your organization grow.