Gary Shapiro | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Gary Shapiro


The Consumer Technology Association is the leading advocacy group for entrepreneurs and creative thinkers in the consumer technology industry providing a platform for them to innovate and collaborate. Every year the association stages its trade show, CES, in Las Vegas featuring the latest gadgets and gizmos. CES 2017, hosted from Jan. 5-8, had more than 165,000 attendees from around the world and exhibited technologies from more than 3,800 companies. 

The Mistake:  

We partnered with a company that had totally different cultural values than we have.   

We produce trade shows and they produce trade shows. Both of us had one strong event and one weak event. We combined our weak events together. 

It was pretty much a disaster from the beginning to the end. We found out that our sales forces were competing with each other because their sales forces were focused on individual incentives and ours is a group incentive.  

We knew there was a culture clash before we went in ... [but] we entered the deal anyway to save a losing event, and they did likewise.  

Every step of the way after we signed the contract, it was difficult. It required an enormous amount of time. But we were so eager to preserve an asset that was diminishing in value that we joined forces. We had a mutual goal that should have brought us closer together, but neither one of us was willing to compromise our culture.  

There were definitely several moments of crisis. But we had made a commitment to stick it. It was a marriage, but it was a marriage for at least a year. It wasn't a marriage for forever and we realized that before the show went on for a number of reasons. One was the culture clash. Second was the results. 

They were about short-term profitability and we are about long-term investment. They were overpromising and under delivering where our all whole basis is to under promise and over deliver.  

I was on a panel with the CEO years later and he just said, outright, "We could care less. We were focused on the next acquisition. We could care less about long-term and unhappy customers. It just didn't matter to us because we were out to sell the company."  

A shared goal cannot just be to make money. 

The Lesson:  

When you enter a partnership or relationship, you have to make sure there are some shared values and expectations. You have to make it clear what your culture is. Like, we are really big on honesty, independent auditing and exceeding the expectations of our customers. A shared goal cannot just be to make money.  

If you are entering a partnership, you should not only make sure there is a cultural fit, you should also have measurements each step of the way to measure if you are meeting the goals of the partnership and whether there should be an end before you are committed too far.   

We have dozens of partnerships and relationships. One of the most valuable things now for CEOs is to have partnership deals with groups outside their verticals. That is what distinguishes successful companies from not successful companies. I cannot identify a successful company that does not partner, so that requires an ability to enter partnership relationships. It requires the ability to have honest and frank disclosure communication in the beginning and it also requires the ability to walk away from a deal if you don't think it is going to be right for you. 

What that experience has given me is the confidence to be candid upfront about what we expect and how we do business and, also, the ability to walk away from a deal.  

We almost never have unhappy partnerships now. We deal with a lot of people who are very different than us, but we manage to have many successful partnerships with almost every one of them because we are willing to walk away. 

Follow Gary Shapiro on Twitter at @GaryShapiro  

Photo courtesy of Gary Shapiro  

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