Me And My Partner: Robert McHenry and Betsy Kendall

Robert McHenry, 53, tutored Betsy Kendall when she was a psychology student at Oxford in the early Eighties. In 1985, after their bicycles collided, they ended up starting a psychometrics and consultancy business. Today Oxford Psychologists Press has 70 staff and a turnover of pounds 7m

ROBERT McHENRY: I was teaching experimental psychology at Oxford and Betsy was unusually conscientious and clever. She'd come to tutorials having done everything I asked. The subject concerned theories of personality and intelligence, and she was immensely serious about understanding how this might be useful. She was brought up on a farm and to her everything had to be practical.

I lost contact with her for three years, and one day I was cycling down a road in north Oxford and she was cycling in the opposite direction. I steered across the road, and nearly knocked her off her bike. I said: "What are you doing now?" and she was working for a student broadsheet. I told her I was thinking of breaking away from my university work and applying psychology in a commercial way.

I was interested in social psychology and individual differences and there was a wealth of interesting work that hadn't been translated into action. I thought I could create a distinct, leading-edge consultancy, because everything in the field was 20 years old.

Betsy had retained an interest in psychology, so the idea gelled. That catalysed a lot of activity in the next two years; we worked from a room in my house and set up an embryonic business, focusing on team-building and leadership. I had saved money from my own moonlighting consultancy, and we had a lot of good blue-chip clients from the start, including Cadbury. We had a word-processor but no other machines; Betsy would go off and do the faxing and photocopying elsewhere. My father always said he wished he had started his own business. Both my parents gave me a tremendous amount of confidence, but it took me a long time to give up some of my comforts. By 1987, the business looked so organised that I gave up the lecturing part of my academic work. In 1988, I took out a 15-year lease on 5,000 square feet of office space; I remember Betsy being aghast at the risk. Privately, I was aghast too.

We researched, in a very painstaking way, the best psychometric testing instruments and came up with three. We decided to start our business by distributing those. We have since developed and published new styles of tests, for example to measure someone's ability without assuming any knowledge. You teach something and you see how quickly someone can absorb it.

We've tried to set high standards and refuse to sell our product to people we think would be unqualified to use it. Some have ridiculed us and said "You're not commercial enough". We have strong values - that's our brand. We pay a lot of attention to detail, which binds Betsy and I together, because we really want to make a difference and we're not prepared to sacrifice in the short-term.

There's a high level of trust between us and we have full and frank discussions. She questions and questions my logic, to the point where she produces a practical idea from my idealism. She's structured, amazingly efficient and prudent, and tells me off for suggesting over-spending. Betsy looks to me for optimism and enthusiasm - I can be inspirational and I stay cheerful.

I was slower to see her potential than I should have been. Other people pointed out that she was capable of taking on even more responsibility. She became group managing director last October. I'm very informal as a chairman, and people here don't stand to attention. I often work for Betsy. She gives me projects and I'll go off and do them. We're quite jokey but it sometimes gets a little heated. As soon as we've discussed something, Betsy will start on it and will be disappointed that I won't - she'll give me a right wigging, but we've never really fallen out.

BETSY KENDALL: I met Robert in my second year at Oxford; I had eight tutorials with him and we had a great time. I was impressed by how organised he was in comparison with others - he'd put together these leading-edge reading lists for people, and he was good at feedback. I found him inspirational, and enjoyed the way he challenged established ideas. I was industrious; I would get my work done before I would play, and I loved to go into whatever I was studying in depth and really get to grips with it.

After university, I worked for a student information broadsheet while I thought about what I would do with my life. I was learning new technology and, as it was practical, it was very refreshing. But I was beginning to tire of it and thinking "I need to get on now". I remember cycling to the place I worked and suddenly someone swerved into me. I nearly fell off my bike - it was Robert. He told me he wanted to start a company. I thought it would allow me to carry on studying and at the same time, do something practical, finding ways to apply what I knew and develop people.

We were fairly quick to grow out of a tutor-undergraduate relationship. He's good at encouraging people to be independent; we'd go along and work with managers and he'd give me a briefing before and then be confident about letting me go for it. He has a lot of trust in people's capabilities - occasionally that feels like being thrown in at the deep end.

Robert's interests have focused on seeing the way ahead for the business, in creating vision. I've become more interested in management, the challenge of practising what I have preached as a consultant for so many years. And of course it is a lot tougher in practice than in theory.

Taking an organised, decisive approach is a big part of me, but when I'm with people I've known for a long time, like Robert, another side of me comes out which is much more open-ended and interested in exploring all the angles. Outwardly, it is Robert who explores the options and is more emergent in his thinking, though he does not always communicate to people what he is thinking or how he gets from A to B. That comes out more when we talk one to one. One of our strengths is the degree to which we are prepared to challenge each other's thinking, and others would probably be surprised to hear how heatedly we debate issues. But we have always had trust and respect for each other, and we generally present a united front.

Our different styles of working have become a bit of an amusement. At the start, we'd have to work on a project frequently at weekends. My preference would be to work for three hours on Saturday afternoon, and Robert's would be for Sunday afternoon, which in his mind would start at 4.30pm. That would cause a little friction, but nothing serious.

We'll not infrequently have dinner together, though only to talk about work. Robert is very conscientious about being with his family, and he'll religiously cook a dinner for everybody on Sunday night. But we're friends, and we trust each other enormously - that's why we work well together.

Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultants

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40000: SThree: As a Recruitment Consultant, y...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Quantitative Risk Manager

Up to £80000: Saxton Leigh: My client, a large commodities broker, is looking ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits