Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Spring 2002Kellogg School of Management
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  MHT Partners
©2002 Dennis Clark
MHT Partners grew out of a political campaign. L to R: Wade Hansen '95, Mike McGill '95 and Shawn Terry '94.

Friends and partners
What starts as a Kellogg friendship can turn into a business alliance

By Rebecca Lindell

“Never go into business with friends or family,” runs the conventional wisdom.

For many people thinking about working with someone from their social circle, that’s probably still good advice. Great friends don’t necessarily make great business partners.

A friend might not be skilled or driven enough to succeed in a job. Moreover, the personality quirks that add flavor to a friendship can prove toxic to a business partnership — not to mention the friendship, if the working relationship heads south.

But some alums have found ideal business partners among their Kellogg School comrades. Here’s how a few of them are negotiating the pitfalls and reaping the rewards of building a business enterprise with a friend.

Shawn Terry ’94 and Wade Hansen ’95
When Dallas resident Shawn Terry ’94 asked his friend Wade Hansen ’95 to serve as campaign treasurer during his race for Congress in 1998, Hansen initially hesitated.

“I’m a pretty matter-of-fact, straight-shooter kind of a guy, and politics can be a dirty business,” Hansen says. “But here was this person willing to put aside a lucrative business career and do something for the Dallas community. I could get behind that.”

Hansen soon found himself handing out campaign literature and setting up yard signs, as well as overseeing Terry’s election finances. Terry lost the election, but the pair emerged with something perhaps even more valuable: the groundwork for a successful business partnership.

“Shawn had a passion to do something important, and he put aside a lot — financially and personally — to make it happen,” Hansen says. “I thought, ‘Someone with this kind of drive and commitment is someone I can create a business with.’”

Hansen, a founding principal of Dell Computer’s venture capital arm, persuaded Terry, who was working for a private equity firm, to partner with him and create a “boutique” investment bank for middle-market businesses. Mike McGill ’95, an investment banker whom the pair had met through the Kellogg School network, joined the business less than a year later.

“Wade and I saw there were a number of medium-sized companies that were exciting to work with that didn’t have many service providers,” Terry says. “It seemed there weren’t many top-tier banks focused serving the middle market.”

The result: MHT Partners, which opened for business in mid-2000. The firm offers a wide variety of investment and strategic advisory services to firms with enterprise values between $10 million and $200 million.

Since opening its doors, the firm has attracted upward of a dozen clients. “It’s going great,” says Hansen. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 “shut down a lot of deals in progress, but since Jan. 1 there’s been overwhelming traffic. There is tremendous pent-up demand for both growth capital and M & A activity in the middle market, and MHT Partners is getting the call for advisory support.”

Hansen and Terry say their personalities are complementary yet compatible. “Wade tends to drive harder and more quickly to a conclusion. I’m probably a little more cautious and like to search for alternative solutions,” Terry says. But those differences seem to work in their favor.

“When there’s a fork in the road, we can probably argue three or four different options,” Hansen says. “It’s a good healthy debate, and we’ll have it in front of our clients. In fact, they often tell us that’s why they like working with us. It seems to be helpful to them to know there’s not ‘group think’ with MHT.”

The two do see eye-to-eye on the larger issues surrounding their business — their management philosophy, ethics and their approach to serving clients. They also share a strong commitment to the friendship that preceded their partnership.

“Obviously, Wade and I go in different directions on a lot of things. Anyone in business together disagrees with their partner at times,” says Terry.

“But the nice thing about being friends is that it forces you to work through things until you get to a comfortable enough place where you can still go out and have a beer together.”

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©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University