Me And My Partner: 'Our business is a huge chunk of our lives'

Jennifer Cramb and Debbie Rynda founded the business consultancy Stellar Consulting in 2001 after meeting through a previous employer. Based in London, their clients include Railtrack, KPMG and Arriva Trains Northern
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The Independent Online

Debbie Rynda

The opportunity to form the company with Jennifer almost fell into my lap. I try to telephone all my business contacts every six months to stay in touch. A telephone call to Jennifer revealed that she was leaving her job and setting up on her own. I was already working on my own, so we discussed doing some work together and before we had time to put a formal plan together we won our first piece of consultancy work. Everything was up and running very quickly and smoothly.

We didn't know each other very well. We knew of each other, but had never worked closely together and we were nervous about that in the beginning. We talked openly about having to have full confidence in the relationship if it was to work.

We agreed to do that first piece of work and give each other some honest feedback on what it was like working with each other. Luckily the project was a bit messy as the client kept changing their mind. It tested our working relationship as we had to work very closely together. If it had been an easy one we might not have been put to the test.

Jennifer and I share the same values. We both have pioneering attitudes and want to be innovative in the work that we are doing, but at the same time to do in a way that is humanistic and inclusive.

On the practical level however, we are very different. Jennifer comes across as the strategic, marketing expert, whereas I am more of the talkative, salesperson, enthusing the client to buy in to the process and get things done. We are both keen to keep a fun element in the work as well. If you are not enjoying yourself, you're not going to be motivated at all.

We talk on a daily basis. I have an idea and draft it up and bounce it off her and vice versa. The give and take is constant. We don't have a formal differentiation in our roles, but we sit down and discuss the clients, who's going to lead the project and whose style would be most appropriate and attractive to that company.

I remember in the early months progressing a project with a client through an e-mail. It was one we'd agreed Jennifer would lead on and she said: "I thought I was going to do this?" And I thought about that and thought why did I do it? Did I not trust her to get it done? So that first year was getting to understand each other's patterns. How to support and complement rather than step on each other's toes.

Working together has turned out to be far easier and better than I'd ever imagined. What you get with Jennifer is more than just running a business. She has helped me and I give her great credit for influencing my outlook on life. Our business is a huge chunk of our personal lives and I get such a buzz out of it. But she makes sure we step back and ask is that enough? Are we getting the exercise that we want, the family breaks and time for dinner in the evenings?

The fact that she is Scottish and I am American is an additional element in the relationship. It helps with clients, too. Being an American I can get away with asking more direct questions and maybe being a bit more quirky than if it was just an English woman sitting across the table from them. It is a different kind of protocol.

Jennifer Cramb

Starting my own business was something I had always wanted to do. I did an MBA at Cranfield School of Management 10 years ago and thought about it then, but it took me another 10 years to get round to it. Initially I set up as a consultant on my own, but I was in touch with Debbie at the same time. We knew of each other from a previous employer and we'd met a couple of times and then gone our separate ways, but Debbie's a very good networker and she keeps in touch.

I was in the process of leaving my job when I received a call from Debbie out of the blue and almost intuitively we decided to try to do something together. It was a process of getting to know each other better, thinking through what consultancy work we could do for clients and where that work might come from.

We were very lucky; we won a number of pieces of work early on and things moved on from there. The first project was a challenge and we got to know each other quickly and found that we worked well together. I suppose if it had been a disaster we could have called a halt at that stage, but it worked so well that we continued.

At the core we share similar values about the kind of work that we want to do and the way that we do it. It's the fundamental thing that holds us together. Alongside that, we also have very complementary skills and experience.

Debbie is an excellent public speaker and loves to be up on stage, out in front talking about leadership and change. On the other hand, I like the writing element, so that works well.

Similarly, Debbie is an accountant by training and I freely admit to not being strong on the numbers side. She is very strategic and she's able to pin that down and drive strategies through to practical actions.

She's very disciplined and focused, much more so than I am. I'm good on the big picture, the ideas and broader strategies and working with Debbie makes those happen. She is much more extrovert and I'm more introvert. She'll be making the actions happen and I'll be making sure that the actions have been well thought through.

Our styles can clash sometimes. Debbie is very action-orientated, whereas I like to step back and reflect, but we're very good at talking things through and adapting our styles so they work together.

We are both clear about the kind of decisions that we take ourselves and those that we need to discuss together. Our decision-making is pretty harmonious. There are not many occasions when we vehemently disagree about something.

I think our relationship has evolved and strengthened enormously over the three years that we've been working together. We didn't know each other that well in the beginning and we now know each other very well. We are friends as well as business partners. That has been very rewarding.

One of the surprises for me is that I've ended up in business with an American. It's not something that I would have expected because the stereotypical American style is not one that I would have thought suited me. She's not a stereotypical American at all, but the fact that we are a international company in that sense is a bit of a surprise.

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