The Best Business Partner Duos of All Time
Just because you have a bold new business idea doesn’t mean you’re destined for success. In fact, a USA Today article reveals that 50 percent of new companies fail to make it to the five-year mark. And just a third are around to celebrate a decade in business. If you want your venture to go the distance, you need to put in the effort and find others who are willing to do the same.
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The partners on this list joined forces to make their business dreams realities. Thanks to strong work ethics and complementary skill sets, these famous business partnerships yielded incredible — and enviable — results.
Whether you’re looking for a business partner or just trying to get your company off the ground, read on to discover how these extraordinary entrepreneurs built their empires.
(By Andrew DePietro)
- William Procter net worth: unknown
- James Gamble net worth: unknown
- Company: Procter & Gamble — $230 billion net worth
A humble English candle maker and a poor Irish soap maker created one of the most successful companies in the world, and they had their in-laws to thank for it.
William Procter and James Gamble married Olivia and Elizabeth Norris, respectively, whose father Alexander Norris suggested his sons-in-law stop competing with each other and start a joint business. On Oct. 31, 1837, in the midst of a recession, the two formed Procter & Gamble Company, which thrived despite stiff competition.
One reason Procter and Gamble are among the most successful business partners is that they put the company’s welfare above their own. In 1840, both men sold their personal assets in order to build a factory and produce candles of a quality no company in Cincinnati could match. Their modern Central Avenue facility offered canal access, allowing for cheap transportation. The end result was that Procter & Gamble grew into a million-dollar business by 1859.
- Henry Wells net worth: unknown
- William Fargo net worth: unknown
- Company: Wells Fargo — $274 billion net worth
Henry Wells and William Fargo founded not just one but two major financial companies that have become household names: Wells Fargo and American Express. Having worked for years in the shipping industry, Wells and Fargo founded American Express in 1850 to capitalize on the U.S.’s expanding size and population by offering a fast, reliable delivery service between the East and Midwest. But when gold was discovered in California, Wells and Fargo saw a whole new market emerge.
When their other partners refused to expand, Wells and Fargo took matters into their own hands. They raised $300,000 and in 1852 founded a new company — Wells Fargo & Company — to bring express shipping to California.
In 1852, the duo expanded their offerings, forming the popular bank many know today.
- John D. Rockefeller net worth: $341 billion in 2014 dollars
- Henry Flagler net worth: unknown
- Company: Standard Oil. The company is defunct, but it has successors.
By 1880, Standard Oil controlled the refining of nearly 95 percent of all oil produced in the U.S. John D. Rockefeller rightfully gets most of the credit for founding this industry titan, but his partner Henry M. Flagler played a major role in the company’s success.
As the main oil refiner in Cleveland, Rockefeller was already making significant sums of money in the 1860s, but he still needed a business partner to complement his skill set. After buying out his original partner, Maurice B. Clark, Rockefeller brought in Ohio grain merchant Henry Flagler in 1867, and the pair formed Standard Oil Company in 1870. Flagler proved to be the ideal business partner to bolster Rockefeller’s strategic vision and resolve, as well as provide a lawyer-like analysis of business contracts.
The U.S. government ordered the Standard Oil monopoly to break up in 1911, which is also when Rockefeller and Flagler ended their partnership. To this day, you’ll find Rockefeller and Flagler’s company living on through its successors: Mobil, Amoco, Chevron and Exxon.
- Wilbur Wright net worth: unknown
- Orville Wright net worth: $10.3 million upon his death in 2015 dollars
- Company: Curtiss-Wright — $2.21 billion in revenue in 2016
Orville and Wilbur Wright introduced powered, heavier-than-air human flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903. Their success was due not only to years of research and development but also the right mix of personalities and skills. Wilbur handled the business half of the partnership, serving as president of the Wright Company, while Orville was the back-room inventor. However, the brothers always shared credit for their successes.
The Wright Brothers enjoyed one of the best business partnerships because they were good communicators. According to The One Thing, Wilbur said of the partnership, “Nearly everything that was done in our lives has been the result of conversations, suggestions and discussion between us.”
The Wright Company lasted from Nov. 22, 1909, until 1915, when Orville sold his interest. But the partners’ legacy lives on today as Curtiss-Wright.
- Bill Hewlett net worth: $9 billion in 2000
- Dave Packard net worth: $4 billion in 1996
- Company: HP — $55 billion net worth
Like many of the successful business partners on this list, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard met in college. While studying at Stanford, Hewlett and Packard discussed forming a company and eventually founded Hewlett-Packard Corporation in 1939.
From its humble origins as a maker of audio oscillators, HP went on to become a tech giant, producing PCs, printers, software, servers and plenty more. Despite such milestones, Hewlett and Packard also made big mistakes — but they always learned from their failures. When HP tried and failed to compete with rival Tektronix in the oscilloscope market, the duo took away a key lesson that all entrepreneurs should learn: only attack an established competitor if your company can offer something new and exciting.
Hewlett retired as CEO and was succeeded by John Young in 1978. Both Hewlett and Packard would play unofficial roles in the company for many years. Packard died in 1996, and Hewlett passed on in 2001.
- Ben Cohen net worth: $150 million
- Jerry Greenfield net worth: $150 million
- Company: Ben & Jerry’s — $1.23 billion in revenue in 2015
Ice cream is big business in the U.S., with the industry as a whole recording $5.15 billion in sales for 2015, and Ben & Jerry’s enjoys a large slice of that (ice cream) pie. But it isn’t the pursuit of profits that puts Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield on the list of the best business partners.
Giving back was a key part of Cohen and Greenfield’s success. After opening the first Ben & Jerry’s shop in 1978, the duo created the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation in 1985, which donates nearly 8 percent of the company’s earnings to nonprofits across the country. Additionally, Cohen and Greenfield take steps to give back to their employees.
The pair offer numerous programs designed to benefit employees, including free gym memberships, day care service, college tuition aid and profit-sharing deals. Equally important, Cohen created a greater atmosphere of democracy, having subordinates evaluate their bosses and creating a forum for them to express ideas and concerns. Not surprisingly, Ben & Jerry’s successful policies led many competitors to follow its lead.
- Bill Gates net worth: $75 billion
- Paul Allen net worth: $20.1 billion
- Company: Microsoft — $84.7 billion in revenue in 2016
It’s hard to imagine a world without Microsoft, but thanks to Bill Gates and Paul Allen, we don’t have to. Microsoft founders Gates and Allen met at Seattle’s Lakeside School and built a friendship out of their shared love of technology, among other things.
Boasting strong entrepreneurial spirits, Gates and Allen seemed destined for success from the beginning. Instead, one of their first business ventures — Traf-O-Data, launched in 1974 — fell apart in 1980 after failing to find a customer base.
Gates and Allen rank among the best business partners because they learned from their early failures. Allen said that Traf-O-Data taught him that low-cost microprocessors would be the key to the future of the computer industry — and Microsoft’s success.
- Warren Buffett net worth: $77 billion
- Charles Munger net worth: $1.49 billion
- Company: Berkshire Hathaway — $222.94 billion in revenue in 2016
Both Omaha natives, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger created the impressive company that is known today as Berkshire Hathaway. After meeting in 1959, the pair bonded over a shared belief in the value of investing.
Over the decades, Buffett and Munger have worked closely together, with Buffett serving as chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and Munger as vice chairman. Part of their success as business partners can be traced to their shared experiences — both men worked for Buffett’s grandfather Ernest, toiling away at the family grocery store in Omaha. However, they also have similar senses of humor.
In an interview with CNBC, Buffett said, “We have minds that work the same way to a great degree. We find the same things quite humorous (and) the things we deplore we agree on.”
Due to their similar upbringings, their shared sense of humor and mutual respect for each other, Buffett and Munger were able to forge Berkshire Hathaway into a highly successful company.
- Steve Jobs net worth: $14.1 billion in 2011
- Steve Wozniak net worth: $100 million
- Company: Apple Inc. — $495 billion net worth
Dynamic duos are common in the tech industry, and the partnership of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak was no exception. The men became friends at a summer job in 1970, and six years later they founded Apple together.
What made Jobs and Wozniak successful as business partners were their complementary personalities and skill sets. Wozniak was the hands-on engineer, constantly tinkering with computers. Jobs, on the other hand, was the businessman who intended to change the world — and did so thanks to his ability to sell Apple to corporations and the public alike.
- Larry Page net worth: $44.1 billion
- Sergey Brin net worth: $42.9 billion
- Company: Google — $90 billion in revenue in 2016
Stanford has a habit of producing some of the best business partners, especially when it comes to the tech industry. Larry Page and Sergey Brin met in a Stanford Ph.D. program in 1995 and eventually collaborated on a project called, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.” The paper would form the foundation for Google.
Brin and Page still work together to this day. Brin serves as the president of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and Page is the CEO.
- Pierre Omidyar net worth: $9 billion
- Jeffrey Skoll net worth: $4.9 billion
- Company: eBay — $36.6 billion net worth
Pierre Omidyar might officially be the sole founder of eBay, but his partner Jeffrey Skoll was key to the online company’s success. Armed with a Stanford MBA, Skoll joined Omidyar in 1995, when the latter invited him to draw up a business plan for his company, Auction Web, which would go on to become eBay.
Complementary skills and shared values are often the ingredients for successful business partnerships. Omidyar was the computer programmer, while Skoll was the businessman. However, both brought a democratic approach to eBay, referring to their customers as “the community.” And that outlook helped them achieve great success. On its first day as a public company in 1998, eBay traded 218 million shares.
Omidyar was chairman of the board of eBay until 2005, though he still sits on the board. Skoll left eBay in 2001 to focus on his own projects, including the charity organization Skoll Foundation and the production company Participant Media.
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- Gordon Moore net worth: $7 billion
- Bob Noyce net worth: $3.7 billion
- Company: Intel — $59.39 in revenue in 2016
The tech industry has long been a cutthroat business, and the founders of Intel — Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce — know this better than most. Moore and Noyce both worked with early Silicon Valley magnate William Shockley at Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory until 1957, when they abandoned him and his tyrannical management style. They would go on to found Intel in 1968.
Harmonious personalities helped Moore and Noyce become some of the best business partners in the industry. Noyce and his visionary, big-picture mentality meshed well with the reflective, mild-mannered Moore, who preferred working with technology. In November 1971, the company launched the Intel 4004, the first general-purpose programmable processor, which became the model microprocessor used in many PCs.
- Jerry Yang net worth: $2.3 billion
- David Filo net worth: $3.4 billion
- Company: Yahoo — $30 billion net worth
Jerry Yang and David Filo came up with the idea for Yahoo while trying to avoid doing their school work. As doctoral candidates at Stanford in 1994, Filo and Yang were tasked with developing a new line of computer chips. Without supervision, they instead spent much of their time surfing the internet.
Procrastination usually isn’t a good thing, but Filo and Yang’s obsession with the internet led them to start categorizing their favorite sites. Until that time, the web lacked formal organization. What began as the informal “David and Jerry’s Guide to the Web” soon transformed into a website that, by November 1994, was attracting 170,000 visitors a day. By then, they had changed the site’s name to Yahoo. In this way, the pair was able to turn a hobby into a business venture.
Although Filo and Yang were young and inexperienced, their talent and vision lured Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mike Moritz into investing $1 million in Yahoo. The search engine is still alive and well today.
- Michael Eisner net worth: $1 billion
- Frank Wells net worth: unknown
- Company: Disney — $55.37 billion in revenue in 2016
You might not expect Michael Eisner to be on a list of the best business partners, considering he was voted out as chairman of Disney in 2004. But when CEO Eisner was matched with new Disney president, Frank Wells, in 1984, the pair brought the storied film company back to life.
When Eisner and Wells joined Disney, the company was struggling and nearly acquired by competitors. However, the combination of Eisner’s creative energy and enthusiasm and Wells’ pragmatism and business acumen helped turn Disney into the No. 1 studio at the box office by 1988.
*Net worth information was taken from Celebrity Net Worth, TheRichest, Forbes, Inc., Time and MarketWatch.
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