Why Partnerships Soar Or Sink: A Q&A with Sifu Alex Chan

Alex Chan and Luigi Cuellar are co-owners of Nubreed Martial Arts Academy, a hugely successful martial arts school in Queens, NY. They have been partners for almost 20 years! We asked Sifu Chan some questions about how they’ve made their partnership work so successfully for so long.


Q. Is it a good idea to have a legal contract in place before going into a partnership?

A. I feel that when people get into contracts and other legal matters, they are stepping away from trust. Without trust, there is no relationship, and then what’s on paper doesn’t really matter.

Q. So what sort of partners are you and Luigi?

A. Luigi and I are 50% shareholders of our business, which is an S corporation.

Q. What advice do you have for partners whose relationship is going south?

A. If things become really unbearable, dissolve the partnership and move on. Cut your losses and split up. A business where two partners don’t get along won’t be successful in any case. So what’s the point of sticking around, really?

Q. How do you handle a disagreement?

A. First off, we both have an understanding that there is no such thing as a bad idea. If I were to come up with an idea that Luigi doesn’t like, we still talk about it, mull over it, sleep on it, debate its pros and cons, and get feedback from staff members. If I’m really convinced it’s a great idea, I’ll keep presenting it. We both have to put our egos aside and one of us will eventually convince the other. The trick it to not take this process personally. Problems only arise when people let their egos get hurt.

Q. Do you divide responsibilities?

A. Yes, it helps tremendously to define and allocate responsibilities. We don’t step on each other’s toes, but we check in with each other frequently. We also make sure we are doing our part to make the organization function smoothly, and we always keep the other in the loop.

It’s helpful to have a great communication system. It’s great if you talk or text every day. If one of us is away, the other keeps him informed. We keep the other in the loop even about personal matters that can affect the business.

To illustrate how we divide responsibilities: Luigi is in charge of the inventory for our pro shop, while I do the banking. And while I manage the stats, Luigi knows the numbers just as much as I do, because I keep him informed.

Q. What happens when one of you upsets the other?

A. If you have procedures and systems and guidelines, then that won’t happen! There are no surprises! Neither of us does anything impulsively. We have such good understanding that he knows what I will say or what decisions I will make under a certain scenario, and vice versa.

Q. Tips for others?

A. Here are my main suggestions:
» If you’re contemplating going into partnership with somebody, you have to think about the pros and cons. One of the greatest pros is that you will have a trusted partner whom you can trust with your baby, so to speak. It will allow you time to follow your pursuits and enjoy your life more. You can sleep better at night. If you’re the sole proprietor, you can reap a lot of the rewards of being in that position, but you’re also solely responsible, with nobody to share your responsibility with.
» Always maintain great communication.
» Trust is the most important element. The relationship has be about mutual respect for a fellow martial artist. And you must have an honor code that goes beyond signing a piece of paper.

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