John O'Connell

Partnerships most often dissolve in the face of changing priorities.

Take John O’Connell, CEO of Davis Rea in Toronto, who worked as an RBC portfolio manager for 25 years. Despite his success, he says he refined his goals, prompting him to leave in 2010.

He’d always wanted to own a money management company, so he decided to acquire one.

The bank had clear guidelines to deal with his departure—the key to keeping the breakup harmonious. O’Connell didn’t have to hold difficult negotiations with his partners, which left their friendships intact and let him make a clean break.

To this day, he keeps contact with his former team. “Though we’re not in a formal business partnership, they’re great guys and I wouldn’t hesitate sending clients to them,” he says.

Peter Taylor*, a Halifax-based advisor, agrees breakups don’t have to be difficult. He and his two former partners had a strong working relationship and discussed their concerns regularly.

When he announced he was leaving, they were disappointed, but understood his motivations. He gave three months’ notice and continued to work there until the day his new business opened.

More importantly, they divided their business without needing legal help. His former colleagues have since hired a marketing specialist rather than a new partner, and Taylor has built the business he envisioned. His biggest success? Like O’Connell, he also preserved his connections, which is crucial in such a close-knit industry.

As O’Connell says, “Protecting your reputation should be your main focus in the midst of a business breakup.” You should act professionally during and after all negotiations, since people in the industry will find out about your split and how it played out.

And, if a client were to call your former partners for a reference, you’d want them to speak highly of you—they’re one of your best referral sources.

* Not his real name

Originally published in Advisor's Edge