Building Relationships

Building Relationships as an Acquisition Entrepreneur of Color

One crucial skill for an entrepreneur seeking to acquire and operate a small-to-medium-sized business is the ability to establish relationships rapidly. Adeptly navigating relationships can mean the difference between having promising opportunities laid before you as a searcher and later as CEO—or missing out on them entirely.

Yet, we never really discuss what a “relationship” is.  We presume everyone knows what we mean. However, searchers making that presumption do so at their peril. The concept of what constitutes a relationship differs across cultures, and can vary widely within American communities of color. In this post, I delve into how aspiring entrepreneurs of color might consider cultural nuances around relationship building within the American business landscape.

A Tale of Two Approaches: Transactional & Relational

In American business culture, relationships are often viewed through a transactional lens. They revolve around maintaining alignment of goals and working together for mutual gain in the short or long term. They tend to form around the roles that individuals hold within their organizations. Now, there may be talk about “in it for the long-term,” “developing a strategic partnership,”obtaining buy-in” and “having a fierce commitment.” However, beneath the surface, there lies an unspoken understanding that if the alignment substantially falters, it is acceptable for one side to sever ties with the other. Of course, those ties may be mended days or years later when the two sides regain shared alignment.

This transactional approach to relationships may be baffling, and even seem cruel, to those who are not familiar with American business culture.

For communities of color, relationships tend to be built on a foundation of trust, authenticity, and genuine understanding. In sum, these relationships are, well, relational. The emphasis is not solely on the respective roles people play; instead, it centers on the character and reliability of those individuals. These relational bonds take time to develop through shared experiences and mutual empathy.

For African Americans, this perspective is likely deeply rooted in historical experiences, where sharing hopes and dreams about advancement with the wrong person could carry dire consequences for an individual. This approach is not consigned to just African Americans.  I saw echoes of this dynamic when I briefly lived as a student in Japan, where engineering students closely guarded their emotions and deepest aspirations — especially those that diverged from societal norms — to only their closest, most trusted friends. The students would often say, “It’s the tall blade of grass that gets cut.”

I have also seen this dynamic in the business context through the work of the Executive Development Institute, which provides culturally specific leadership training for Asian, Asian American and Hispanic professionals to navigate American business culture in authentic ways. I have seen professionals who were stuck in tactical roles advance remarkably quickly into strategic and managerial roles following this leadership training. This highlights the importance of learning and understanding the hidden skill of working within American business culture.

Accelerating Toward Your Success

As an aspiring acquisition entrepreneur of color, you may find yourself navigating between these two approaches on your journey toward owning your own business.

For instance, if you decide on a brokered component to your search, you’ll hear how important it is to build relationships with brokers to unearth the good deals. This relationship-building does not necessarily mean buying your local business broker a cup of coffee every week, memorizing their spouse’s name and birthdate or inviting them to your wedding. Instead, it should serve as a prompt to focus on cultivating alignment and easing the path toward mutual gain with these critical gatekeepers.

In the EtA Guidebook that I wrote for my TakeOff courses, I delve into topics like relationship building within American business culture that you may not find in mainstream EtA books. By delving into these aspects, aspiring entrepreneurs can gain a deeper understanding of the potential challenges they could encounter as searchers or CEOs within American business culture. Equipped with practical tips for cultural awareness, they can navigate these challenges more effectively and accelerate their journey towards achieving their aspirations.