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Minnesota Business: When Partners Must Part

March 29, 2013 — If leaders can’t get on the same page, it’s best to split before business suffers, too. When the partners of McKinley Group, Minnesota’s largest recruiting and placement firm, split at the end of 2012, it naturally caused a stir. But their story is actually about acknowledging philosophical differences so that the partners could move on to create their own versions of success — before their differences impacted growth. Timing is critical in such situations.

After a little more than a decade in existence, the McKinley Group of companies reported revenues of almost $18 million, making it one of the fastest-growing Twin Cities businesses — and thus, not easy to walk away from.

However, firm partners Tony Sorensen and Chris Ohlendorf had visions of growth and culture that were different from the other partners. “It’s not that anyone was right or wrong; we just had different ideas about how the business should be done,” Sorensen says. “Our partnership agreements favored working as sales producers, but our business needed us to work more as leaders developing our systems and people.”

Sorensen and Ohlendorf went on to form Versique Search & Consulting, while other former partners launched a separate firm this year.

At McKinley Group, the partnership challenges were revealed during attempts to develop the firm’s core values and strategic business planning. Decisions would tend to stall, leading to a lack of action. “There were times that it was difficult for each of the partners to be fully engaged at work when we couldn’t get partnership agreement on actions that were important to address,” Ohlendorf says.

By participating in CEO peer groups and using Minnesota-based consultants such as Mike Harvath of Revenue Rocket and Mike Paton of EOS and Achieve Traction to learn growth management strategies, the partners were able to clarify their vision. Consultants ultimately recommended a split because of the philosophical differences and gridlock.

With Versique, launched in January, Sorensen and Ohlendorf have defined core values that they can live by and teach. They have assigned leaders with the right skill sets to key roles throughout the organization. “Our staff is excited about the changes,” Ohlendorf says.

Leadership roles are well defined. Sorensen, as CEO and president, oversees business development and marketing; Ohlendorf, as the chief talent officer, handles internal hiring and delivery strategies.

“One of our growth strategies includes acquiring recruiting firms that are in niches that complement our current offerings, where we can provide the business management such as admin, HR, IT, training, and finance,” Sorensen says. “This will allow them to be more productive. Their headaches and distractions will be handled by our more efficient internal operations.

“We plan to be one of Minnesota’s largest talent placement and consulting companies once again.”

The fact that partners on both sides of the split still jointly own McKinley Consulting (a sister company of Versique) validates the business-focused approach to this transition. Without struggles at the top, the former partners can stimulate friendly competition, operate more swiftly, and create jobs.


Best practices for partners:

  1. Align core values that all can agree on and commit to following.
  2. Create solid buy-sell agreements.
  3. Find and use the appropriate resources and experts to learn from, grow, and stay aligned.
  4. Communicate and collaborate consistently.
  5. Compromise when appropriate to move goals forward, or decide when a timely split is necessary before business suffers.

Article: Minnesota Business, When Partners Must Part