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The power of partnerships

Antoinette Tuscano

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Borislow and Gaunya create a winning team based on a shared vision and strong communication.

When a business partnership works, production skyrockets by fusing together two or more talented people who leverage each other’s strengths and expertise while providing support to one another in good times and bad. In practice, though, business partnerships dissolve more often than marriages.

“Statistics state that 80 percent of partnerships fail,” said Jennifer A. Borislow, CLU, 2012 MDRT President and a 29-year member from Methuen, Massachusetts. “I’m very fortunate that I’m involved in a business partnership that has worked well for more than a decade.”

Her partnership with Mark S. Gaunya, GBA, an 11-year MDRT member also from Methuen, took their employee benefits practice, Borislow Insurance, from 13 employees to more than 50. In 12 years, the business has more than quadrupled in size, becoming one of the largest privately held employee benefits agencies in Massachusetts.

“One plus one equals three” is how both Gaunya and Borislow often describe their partnership. It sounds simple. It’s not. Their partnership requires:
  • Shared vision
  • Frequent communication
  • Unfailing respect and trust
  • Unwavering commitment to each other and the business

“We’re going to shine together or go down together,” Borislow said. “We may have different ways to approach a business issue, but in the end, we get to the right result. We respect each other’s strengths, contributions and leadership style.”

Borislow and Gaunya didn’t start the business together. Borislow was the sole proprietor with 13 employees and multiple Top of the Table qualifications. She realized, though, she had reached a point where it was getting much harder to grow the agency alone. Borislow asked her friend Gaunya if he’d be interested in being her equity partner.

“It takes a special someone to share. Not everyone is able to or likes to,” Gaunya said. Together, they’re both responsible for more than 50 employees, 320 corporate clients and 2,000 individual clients.

Because they were friends before going into business together, they knew a lot about each other and their core values. To be better prepared to work through any future differences of opinion, though, they hired a coach to assist them with building a partnership charter.

Together, they wrote a 25-page document that covered their shared values, how they’ll handle disagreements and even how to handle a “business divorce.” Furthermore, they outlined contingencies for death or disability in a business continuation agreement funded by life and disability insurance.

Gaunya and Borislow have different strengths. Gaunya comes from a family of health care entrepreneurs and at the time possessed more than a decade of experience in corporate America. His contribution to the partnership is innovation and vision. Borislow’s background is entrepreneurial, and she likes focusing on the client and employee experience.

“I look around the corner, peek into the future and bring it back to the present so we can continually innovate and create more value for our clients,” Gaunya said.

There are times, however, when Borislow doesn’t see what he sees. “He is passionate and full speed ahead into the future, and I tend to tap the brakes a bit so our team can catch up,” Borislow said. Still, because of the mutual respect and trust, they support each other. “We’ll reach the same conclusion, it’s just a matter of how long it takes to get there,” she said.

About 85 percent of the time, they’re on the same page, Borislow said. Sometimes, though, they’re not. They both care passionately about the business, which can lead to spirited discussions. With clients, they always present a united front. In front of their staff members, who are uncomfortable with seeing them disagree, “we’ll do a timeout and say we’re not on the same page,” Gaunya said. They then let the team know they’ll discuss it offline and get back to them.

“I’m confident it is never a disagreement about who we are as people. When we disagree, it’s about a business issue, not about each other,” Gaunya said.

“Partnerships are like marriages,” Borislow said. “There’s a lot of give and take, and that’s the key to a successful long-term partnership.”

Partnership Basics
  • Know each other’s core values.
  • Understand and respect what each person contributes to the business.
  • Put together a written document about how to handle all aspects of the partnership.
  • Don’t make disagreements about your partner — keep it about the issues.
  • Maintain continuous communication.

“Partnerships are like marriages.There’s a lot of give and take.”

—Jennifer Borislow

“I’m confident it is never a disagreement about who we are as people.”

— Mark Gaunya

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