The Bezos co-founder split

Hypothetical: If Sergey Brin and Larry Page were to end their co-founder partnership, would journalists describe the settlement as Page giving Brin x% of Google / Brin feeling grateful to walk away with x% of Google?

And, yet, we see such statements in the news about Mackenzie-Jeff Bezos divorce (e.g. Forbes – “Jeff Bezos To Give MacKenzie 25% Of His Amazon Stake”). Many have responded sharing stories of how Mackenzie Bezos supported Amazon in the early days. But, that’s still beside the point.

Even if she wasn’t an early employee of Amazon (she was), even if she didn’t play a key support role in the early days (she did), she is no different from a co-founder of any venture that involved Jeff Bezos.

The only plausible explanation for this sort of coverage is that the reporters who frame this as Mackenzie walking away with 25% of Amazon don’t have partners or kids. If they did, they’d know that any and all success within the family is a the result of everyone pitching in – with the partner contributing the lion’s share.

I get that we love the hero’s (often solitary) journey. Life, however, is a team sport.

Career decisions and partners

A member of our team did a fireside chat with an executive/wise friend who was leaving our organization. One of the questions he asked was about her most important career decision.

After giving it a moments thought, she said – “Marrying my husband.” She went on to share her appreciation for their relationship, for their partnership as parents, and explained that it was key to any success she had enjoyed in her career and also to her happiness.

I think about that answer from time to time.

I grew up in India where marriage is a default decision. Most kids growing up in India don’t think about whether marriage is for them. It is just something you do once you get out of college and get a job. Kids come after that.

Economic development changes the nature of such default decisions. The US in the 1950s wasn’t all that different. You found a job, married young, and had kids. That has changed and we’re seeing that change in the urban centers of India too. We all have our own unique journeys. Marriage is not for everyone. And, having kids is definitely not for everyone.

That said, if you do decide that it ought to be part of your journey, marriage does end up being a critical decision. Once you are past the honeymoon phase, your partner becomes your shrink, best friend, life coach, loyal critic, movie buddy, and romantic partner all in one. By this time, you’ve heard all of each other’s stories and know every one of your crazy quirks. It can be hard to both love and like people you know well – that’s why relationships take work.

In addition, both your personalities, likes, and dislikes influence each other and you find a thermodynamic equilibrium of sorts over time. If you then decide to have kids, you move from testing your partnership in the little leagues to playing in the major leagues. The challenges and stakes get higher as you try and balance being parents and partners while learning to trust each other’s decision making processes.

Successful careers are the result of a large team of contributors. No one does anything of note by themselves. A few succeed despite bad partnerships. But, in most cases, careers are only as successful as the strength of the partnership at the center of it all. That’s because great partnerships in life are like great partnerships in sports and business – both of you push each other and grow together to become the best versions of yourself while complementing each other as a team.

Over the years, I’ve spoken to a lot of friends and colleagues who were thinking about marriage. It is a hard topic to talk about because you don’t have many personal data points to draw from if you have done it well. It is also why I don’t write about it that much. But, if I were to speak from my experience, I’d probably say it is worth being very thoughtful about that choice. And, once we choose, it is on us to commit wholeheartedly and do the work – every day. It definitely is the among the most important decisions we get to make.

In the final analysis, this partnership and this life are completely what we make of it. And, if we want to and are lucky, we have the opportunity to work at making it special and fun – together.