Breaking up is harder for some to do than others.
When a marriage is in danger of falling apart, a couple can seek professional counseling to try to patch things up or to make a divorce less traumatic. But when a business partnership is on the rocks, help is not so easy to find.
To deal with the growing problem of "corporate divorce," Rabbi Ian Wolk, an expert in family counseling and marriage intervention, and Robert Cunitz, a licensed psychologist, have formed Partnership Consultants Inc.
The Silver Spring based company is one of the few in the country performing this unusual counseling service Serving as a financial consultant is Cunitz' brother Jonathan, a Harvard MBA and former vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank.
Corporate divorce may not be as dramatic as the film "Kramer vs Kramer" but the consequences, emotional and financial, can be devasting.
"Because of the increasing rate of splits and the resulting business failures, banks are losing money and they're concerned," Wolk said
For a company experiencing financial trouble, the real problem usually lies beneath the surface, in the personal relationships within the firm, according to Wolk. His job is to find the source of and make recommendations to ease interpersonal friction.
"Ninety percent of the time, really serious financial mismanagement is the result of incompatible style," Wolk said. "It is a symptom of something else."
Partnership Consultants specializes in counseling smaller firms with two to 12 partners. Wolk said that professional partnerships -- law, accounting and medical firms -- and family operated business seem to have the most difficulty in staying together.
Wolk and Cuntiz begin by conducting individual interviews with every employe, including secretaries, who may have some insight into the problem.
There are a number of classic patterns that Wolk and Cunitz can spot right away -- a partner who feels misunderstood or unappreciated by his superiors, sexual tension, an overachiever who gets on the nerves of others.
"One person is often the catalyst to a problem," Wolk said. "We look for pragmatic solutions to try to get them to work better together."
Improving communication is one of the primary goals. Wolk may recommend that partners get together over lunch every week or that outside persons be brought in to act as sounding boards for ideas.
In the case of a family business, Wolk might advise that personal, family matters never be discussed during business hours.
"Sometimes resentment is base on a false view of who should be doing what," Wolk said.
What appears to be an irreconcialable personality difference between two partners can be alleviated "if you get them to recongnize that partner A has skills that partner B doesn't have."
Most business partnerships are formed with the profit motive in mind, and little consideration of potential, personal disagreements, Wolk contends.
"Within the first six months the tension starts to show and they attribute it to everyting else," Wolk said. "Five years down the line they will find something else to attribute it to."
Over the years little things that have bothered one person or another build up and hostility and tension increase.
In some instances the problem is simply a bad match and Wolk will recommend a "divorce."
"There are some people who should not be in business together." he said. "In that case we can mediate (a split) to take some of the antagonism out of it."
"I measure success two ways -- if they stay together or if they split amicably."
Partnership Consultants' efforts helped prevent the dissolution of one law firm and saved the partners millions of dollars in lawsuits that surely would have followed.
Working quickly is important to Wolk and Cunitz. Within 24 hours of the initial interviews, they usually will have some suggestions for a resolution.
Cunitz Partnership Consultants also holds weekend-long retreats to bring partners together in a relaxed environment to discuss and work out their differences. During these sessions, which cost $4,000, partners will try to find out why they don't get along with a particular person or persons.
We set up role plays with partners," Wolk said, "in which they project what they think ought to be the role of the other partner. You have to make someone see how they come across to others. Once you accomplish that, that's 90 percent of the work."