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Dolby CMO: What Star Wars taught me about finding business partners

September 8, 2015, 5:24 PM UTC
Dolby Lab executive in San Francisco, California, Monday, February 23, 2015. (Paul Sakuma Photography)
Dolby Lab executive in San Francisco, California, Monday, February 23, 2015. (Paul Sakuma Photography)
Photograph by Paul Sakuma

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What do you look for in the ideal business partner?” is by Bob Borchers, senior vice president and CMO at Dolby Laboratories.

With the world as connected as it is, it’s almost impossible for a business to thrive without healthy partnerships. But building a productive alliance with another company is a lot of work, so it’s vital to choose the right partners to collaborate with.

At Dolby, for example, partnerships are our lifeblood. Our main business is creating technology that makes content look and sound better. No one will see our work unless we partner with directors, movie studios, broadcasters, device makers and other partners that make, distribute and display movies, music and TV shows.

Here are three things that I’ve learned make great partners:

  1. The best partners see your vision, but then take you far beyond it.

Back in 1976, Dolby (DLB) had created one of the first practical stereo sound systems for movies. It was used in the remake of A Star Is Born, but hadn’t gotten that much attention.

Then we started working with an emerging director — George Lucas — who was creating low-budget space adventure Star Wars. When we heard what Lucas and his sound designer, Ben Burtt, did with Dolby Stereo, we were blown away — and so were audiences. Dolby Stereo took hold in movie theatres faster than we could have imagined.

The ideal partners understand your product and what you want to do, but have the skills and imagination to do more with it than you’d imagined.

See also: The quickest way to sabotage your new business

  1. The best partnerships provide equal value to both sides.

At Dolby, we’re often working to create new ecosystems. One example is Dolby Vision, a new imaging technology with greater contrast and a much wider range of colors. To make Dolby Vision a success, we are working with artists to help them create movies and TV shows in Dolby Vision. We’re working with broadcasters to help them use their limited bandwidth to send these vastly improved images. And we’re working with movie theatre owners — such as AMC — and TV manufacturers — such as VIZIO — to ensure that consumers have a way to view Dolby Vision content.

Here’s what we’ve learned from this kind of work: For a new ecosystem to succeed, everyone must thrive. At times, that may mean giving up short-term gain for the long-term health of the group, whether that’s by changing the way a product works or reworking who gets top billing in the marketing. If one of your partners isn’t willing to make any compromises, reevaluate that partnership.

  1. The best partnerships are long-lived.

Let’s face it: Building a successful partnership is hard work. Getting to know one another’s business and building connections and trust between teams doesn’t happen overnight. While short-term partnerships may make sense occasionally, in general, you should invest in partnerships that will last.

Your business may not rely as much on partnerships as Dolby’s does, but few companies can go it alone these days. And these relationships can create some of the most satisfying moments in your business career. Good luck in finding your own Star Wars moment.

Read all responses to the Leadership Insider question: What do you look for in the ideal business partner?

How to avoid picking the wrong business partner by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.

3 signs you need to ditch your business partner by William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.

The most important relationship you will make in your career by Nirav Tolia, CEO of Nextdoor.