Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It Takes Two

On Sept. 18 of this year, two young women -- Susan McLaughlin Karp (above right) and Julie Saltzman (left) -- took an ambitious leap and launched the Uptown Writer’s Space. Because I’m a fan of risk-takers (the business kind, not the skydiving variety), I wanted to encourage these new owners by offering wisdom gleaned from 30 years in, out, and on the fringes of the work world. While I could easily supply P.R. tips, I flunked on a crucial slice of their enterprise: Partnerships. So I turned to my Rolodex, fished out three former employers whose success can be credited to the duo at the helm: GreenHouse Communications, Taylor Johnson Associates, and the Women’s Business Development Center. I was certain these six bosses could inspire and help my courageous friends.

I suppose it’s no surprise I blanked on the partnership bit because in my own career I’ve shied away from gluing myself to another person. I did have successful temporary arrangements with two terrifically talented women: Chris Ruys (pictured above) in the 1990’s, and Michele Snyder in 2005. Both women have headed their own full-service public relations agencies for many years. But I slipped away from each commitment, tracing my first departure to a new marriage that deserved attention, and the second to my memoir for the very same reason.

But looking back, I think I can pin my reluctance to permanently bond to my long-ago models of business partnership: my parents, Min and Irv Shapiro. In my childhood, I witnessed the two of them daily tangling across the counters of the mom-and-pop grocery store that I depict in “The Division Street Princess.” If that’s what workplace togetherness is like, I must’ve thought, who needs it?

Fortunately, Chris and Michele (pictured left) remain cherished friends of mine, as do the other people you’ll meet in today’s post. And that leads to one piece of advice I can offer: Never Burn Your Bridges. Who knows, one day I may shake my childhood flashback and want to renew alliances. And by keeping my bridges intact, I’ve snagged great contributions to this blog. I’ve included photos of all; and for fun I’ve sprinkled in pictures of well-known duos. Captions are at the end.

Now, meet Susan McLaughlin Karp, and read her tale of how the Uptown Writer’s Space came into being and what it offers Chicago-area writers:

“Once upon a time there were two women, each of whom had three young sons. Coincidentally, both women were writers who found it increasingly difficult to work from home - distracted by the frequent and familiar (but always disturbing) screams of children, mounds of laundry, unpaid bills, and other minutiae. ‘Go to the coffee shop,” said the voices in their heads, but upon arrival, said coffee shop would be jammed with people whose conversations, however mundane, insinuated themselves right into their work. The voices told them, ‘Go to the library,’ but staring at beige walls in eerily quiet rooms evoked unpleasant memories of failed final exams.

“What were they to do? The answer came in a New York Times article about the newly opened writing rooms in New York and Los Angeles. ‘We must make that happen here!’ the women shouted loudly over soy lattes at a crowded coffee shop, ruining someone else’s writing. And so it began, the creation of the Uptown Writer's Space.

“Located on Broadway above the famous Green Mill Jazz Club, the Uptown Writer's Space offers a serene sun-filled room furnished with original cubicles and desks that evoke Chicago modernism, WIFI, a printer and an overstuffed sectional for reading.

“We also provide opportunities for networking and learning with a conference room, reading series, movie nights, and a great variety of classes and workshops.”

Now that you’ve met the newcomers, here’s some background, inspiration, and advice from old friends:

GreenHouse Communications, which Dan Greenberger and Sandy House (photo above) founded in 1990, is a leader in integrated marketing communications for consumer and business-to-business clients. The agency’s primary focus is in the areas of food service, consumer and healthcare marketing.

According to Dan, “Our agency’s success is built upon empowering our senior marketing and creative talent with unique innovation tools and proprietary technologies. The result is breakthrough thinking and the ability to accomplish more in less time, thereby providing greater value to clients.”

For GreenHouse’ contribution, Dan lets us in on a candid conversation about their first meeting and ongoing relationship:

Sandy: Nearly 20 years ago, we met at the Walker Brother’s Pancake House as a result of my networking.

Dan: It was like a blind date. She was looking for the perfect creative director for her agency; I was looking for the perfect agency where I could be creative director. We hit it off, so giving it a go seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sandy: Little did we know that twenty years later we’d still be speaking with each other, let alone talking to others about partnership.

Dan: What attracted us to each other is also what has kept us together. And that is unfailing admiration for each other’s talents and an epic tolerance for each other’s weaknesses.

Sandy: More than tolerance for each other’s weaknesses, I think it’s helping each other understand and compensate for those weaknesses—all the while letting the other person know that your belief in them is unshaken.

Dan: Truth be told, over 20 years there have been ups and downs in our relationships. Not surprisingly, those down times have been when our tolerance for and belief in each other is shaken.

Sandy: That’s when perspective kicks in. You ask yourself, “Will we be better off working together or splitting up?” So far, each time that question comes up, working together has been the answer.

Dan: The other secret is that I always give Sandy the last word.

Sandy: Yes, Dan, but I always let you write it for me.

Now meet Deborah Johnson (above right) and her daughter, Emily Johnson (left), who are partners in Taylor Johnson, one of the nation’s leading real estate marketing and communications firms. Here Deborah gives us a short company description, and offers this counsel:

“Taylor Johnson has been in business for more than 30 years and we’re known for helping our real estate clients break records in sales, traffic, and awareness. We use an integrated approach; and by fusing together branding, public relations, research, media, and event planning, we’re able to create innovative solutions that connect objectives with results. A 95 percent retention rate with our clients speaks for itself.

“In our case, I credit mutual respect and trust in each other’s judgment as key to our success as partners. Emily and I really like each other as people, and not only spend the week together as business partners, but also find time to talk as mother/daughter and friends.

“One thing we did that I think worked well for us and that I’d recommend to others is that we shared an office for three years so we could listen to each other’s conversations and learn from each other.

“As to advice for all new entrepreneurs -- partners or solo practioners -- I’d suggest: Hire the best people you can afford, don’t be shy about charging what you’re worth, only do business with quality clients, be serious about collections, and review your client list every six months. Resign all those accounts who are difficult to work with or don’t pay their bills on time.”

Finally, meet Hedy Ratner (above left) and Carol Dougal (right), who are co-presidents of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC). This year the partners celebrated their non-profit organization’s 20th anniversary with a spectacular Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference that featured Oprah Winfrey as guest speaker. As a measure of this pair’s success, consider these statistics offered by Hedy:

“When we first started out in 1986, less than 10% of U.S. businesses were women-owned. Today, women own nearly half of all privately-held U.S. businesses, employ 19.1 million people, generate nearly $2.5 trillion in sales and are growing at two times the rate of all privately-held firms. I’d like to believe, and many in our field concur, that the WBDC, and our model as a business development center, deserves credit for a good portion of this amazing leap.

“Economic empowerment has been our overriding goal and we’ve helped more than 50,000 women get there by providing resources, counseling, training, financial assistance, access to capital, and business opportunities with corporations and government agencies that didn’t exist before we opened our doors.

“We tell clients who consider going into business with a partner to be certain the goals of both parties match. If one person sees the business as a serious full-time commitment, and the other views it a fun hobby, there’s little chance for success. After all, it will surely take time and effort before they see a profit, so partners should be in sync and realistic if the business is to survive and grow. We also suggest they choose a partner whose skills complement, rather than duplicate, their own. And importantly, we recommend they learn how to disagree and deal with differences of opinion productively.”

Thanks to all for sharing. Be sure to click on our contributors’ websites to learn more. Now to close, here are lyrics from my favorite musical theatre composer, Stephen Sondheim (photo). From “Into the Woods:”
It takes two
I thought one was enough,
It's not true.
It takes two of us.
You came through
when the journey was rough
It took you.
It took two of us.
It takes care.

It takes one to begin,
but then once you've begun
it takes two of you.
It's no fun
but what needs to be done, you can do
when there's two of you.
If I dare,
it's because I'm becoming aware of us.
As a pair of us,
each accepting a share of what's there.

Photo captions:
1. Julie Saltzman and Susan McLaughlin.
2. Chris Ruys, Chris Ruys Communications, Inc.
3. Irv, Min, Ronnie, and Elaine Shapiro in the 1940s.
4. Michele Snyder, Raceworks, Ltd. Event Management and Public Relations.
5. Laverne and Shirley (as pictured, Penny Marshall, who played Laverne is on the right, and Cindy Williams, Shirley, is on the left).
6. Sandra House and Dan Greenberger.
7. Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn.
8. Emily and Deborah Johnson.
9. Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
10.Hedy Ratner and Carol Dougal.
11.Cagney and Lacey (Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly).
12.Stephen Sondheim

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