Be prepared to work at your relationships
Doug Perkins knows exactly what it takes to form the perfect partnership. After all, the Welsh-born optometrist and entrepreneur – and co-founder of Specsavers Optical Group – has been working with his wife, Mary, for more than 50 years. Aside from marital harmony, Doug is convinced that the most important aspect of professional togetherness is how you think about the future.
“It’s important to be on the same page for growth,” he says. “You want to have a shared path in terms of how you view that growth and what you’re really looking for is those suppliers, alliances or partnerships that get up in the morning with the same spirit as you. Choosing who you work with is vital.”
Welcome to the family…
For Doug, finding a common purpose has always been about knowing what values were important to both him and Mary and in the case of Specsavers, family identity was key.
“We sought kindred spirits above everything else. We knew what we stood for, the difference we wanted to make and we knew we were in for the long term. We needed to find those that had a similar outlook, so when we first started out we sought family-style organisations who shared a similar long-term outlook and were open to working in partnership on a mission they also believed in. Finding these shared values reassured us we would work well together.”
It’s all about the vision
Of course, sometimes it takes time to identify what you want and need to move forward. And you can’t beat good, old reliable SWOT and PEST analysis, as old fashioned as they may seem, to see the gaps and the opportunities that suit you best.
“I have always worked with a five-year vision. In the early days it wasn’t necessarily written down, but I carried it around with me all my life. Being able to predict our customers’ needs in 5 years time was key to staying agile..
“At the beginning when Specsavers was growing rapidly, my vision was always with me. I knew why I was taking every step and who I wanted to work with on it. Having a plan gives you a constant reminder of where you are going – so when you are looking for the right people you are not just searching for the here and now, but for the future.”
But how do you know if your potential partners are in fact the right people?
Again, it’s about knowing – and living by – your own values; if you do, finding those who share your vision and beliefs becomes easier. After that, it’s a matter of staying agile without losing your ideals.
“You need to answer the question of why you are seeking support and how you are looking for it to support the growth of your business. We knew our vision would be best delivered with other like-minded people who were customer facing”.
“By all means investigate. But, as I’ve been known to say many times: you don’t need a weather forecast when you go to the North Pole. Don’t overcrowd your research with stuff that doesn’t matter; instead, understand whether the direction of collaboration will bring value to your future or that of your customers. Try to ask yourself – honestly – why you seek the collaboration that you do; it’s all about asking the right questions. These can change as the companies grow but you should be able to stay agile and resilient thanks to your unity.”
Move with the times
Doug and Mary have built Specsavers around joint-venture partnerships, but they have discovered that to remain resilient, you must also be flexible.
“Find a way to work with people before you formally commit. Specsavers grew rapidly through partnerships, creating value for money with professional care, but crucially sharing the responsibilities and successes equally.
“It’s important to understand if both parties want to be together. You may make mistakes – we undertook trials our customers never saw – and in the early days you can find out that your partners are in fact on a different journey. And this is why you should continually assess everybody in your ecosystem and don’t be afraid to change your mind.”
No one said it was going to be easy…
Doug’s wealth of experience across the decades shines through in his final piece of advice, learnt not through luck but hard work and determination.
“You have put a lot of time and effort into getting you to where your organisation is now and you need the same energy and commitment to the next big idea. Don’t think there are easy options or look for similar models that look like the least effort. Collaboration requires total commitment and dedicated resources. However, retaining shared purpose and value means it will be smoother and more joyful. There are so many opportunities out there so get stuck in and enjoy!”