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Profile of Aron Pervin

Family & Relationships

The Globe and Mail – May 10, 2007

You meet and think, hmmm, good partner material.

He or she shares your passions. Fills in your voids. Complements your strengths. Buttresses your weaknesses. You get to know each other, and pretty soon you're talking about building a future together.

Marriage? Of a sort.

The business partnership is just like one. You dream of a shared destiny, which involves those big emotions of trust, loyalty and sometimes, when things go sour, gut-wrenching betrayal.

"I thought he would be a good partner to have," David Radler said earlier this week about his former corporate spouse, Conrad Black, in a Chicago courtroom where their business marriage and divorce is now in the airing-the-dirty-laundry phase.

They had instant chemistry when they met in 1969.

"I was impressed with Mr. Black's knowledge and ability," Mr. Radler testified about his first "date" with Lord Black, a blind one in fact, set up by a mutual friend, Peter White.

And they shared great intimacy as the years wore on. They attended each other's weddings, travelled together on business and occasionally on vacation. One always knew what the other was doing. Think of that photograph of Mr. Radler and Lord Black at the height of their partnership. Mr. Radler is whispering a little something in the ear of Lord Black, who bows his head slightly to hear him better.

"A business partnership can be intoxicating when it's going well. It's an infatuation," says Aron Pervin, an organizational psychologist in Toronto. "There's mutual admiration. You're turning to each other. You influence each other. You have this sense that the other is going to show you the way, that he will dispel your deepest fears, get rid of your anxieties."

Sounds like romantic love to me. You feel rescued. Completed. Secure.

Okay, so there is no sex involved in business partnerships, but there is money. And in the corporate version of marriage, making money is the sex.

You want to do it. You imagine doing it, even fantasize about it, and figure you will do it well together. And you hope that you will be able to help each other get pleasure from the activity well into the future. As long as you're making it, you're happy.

There are only a few relationships in life that involve this deep a level of intimacy. Even the parent-child relationship doesn't measure up. Parents love their kids unconditionally, and their kids love them back, but the idea behind that bond is to learn to separate from it. And you certainly don't want to be privy to all their secrets.

But the business partner love-match? Oh, baby, there's a lot you're taking on when you decide to get in bed with someone you hope will help you realize your professional dreams.

"I often think I should have gotten a psychology degree rather than a law degree," says Nina Kaufman, a principal in the New York boutique law firm Paltrowitz & Kaufman, which specializes in negotiating issues that arise in business partnerships. (Her soon-to-be-published book on the subject is called The Key Questions for Business Partners: 100 Vital Questions to Ask before Going into Business with Someone Else.)

"Often people want to take on a partner because they don't want to be lonely. There's a sense that you have someone along for the ride, that you have support, a cheerleader. You have this other brain to work with, that it's not just me who has to come up with the solutions."

Sound familiar? Isn't this what marriage is? Even romantic relationships are the result of some calculated transaction.

One partner adds to or subtracts from the other's image. Lord Black would not be nearly as interesting if he weren't married to Barbara Amiel. She sexes him up. Laureen Harper, with her motorcycling, Prairie-girl ways, does wonders for her prime ministerial husband. If she loves him, there has to be some warmth behind his ice-blue eyes. Julia Roberts made a shrewd business decision when she married a commoner, cameraman Daniel Moder. He rendered her normal again, the girl-next-door we thought she had abandoned in pursuit of super celebrity.

Any woman of child-bearing age, especially one whose biological clock is ticking, is disingenuous if she doesn't admit to her balance-sheet calculation when she's considering a prospective spouse. His possible contribution to the gene pool. Kindness factor (will he change diapers?) And most important: future earning potential.

Love is never blind.

Once you've made the plunge in the corporate or personal marriage, you are moving into a land of loyalty and trust. That's what you hope, anyway. "There are a lot of fears once you get past that flush of first love," Ms. Kaufman notes. "You realize, 'I'm financially dependent on this person.' You expect them to pull their weight. You trust them to handle the books, to write cheques."

You share secrets. Like the married couple who enjoys kinky sex no one else needs to know about, corporate spouses have intimacies that bind them together. As Mr. Radler testified, he and Lord Black devised the controversial non-compete payments to compensate for declining management fees.

It was their dirty little secret.

Most of all, though, corporate spouses expect each other to be faithful, to see each other through the good times and the bad. They don't want the other to jump in bed with someone else. But Mr. Radler did. He was propositioned, and he couldn't resist the offer.

He slept with the prosecution.

The betrayal was sudden and a shock, as it often is. As with many extra-marital affairs, there likely was a period of duplicity, during which the adulterer acts as if everything is fine. And then he blurts it out.

It's often a question of survival. At the end, even after years spent joined at the hip, when the marriage starts to crumble the couple-think goes out the door. Forget oaths. Forget sharing a destiny. Forget what it means for the other. You save your own skin. Especially if you see a better future.

Mr. Radler's new partner is leading him by the hand to a rosier place. He is being coached, whispered to about what to say. He looked jaunty as he strode into court on the first day of his testimony: tanned, slim, pink-tied.

When marriages break down, people will always advise you to stand up tall, look your defiant, powerful self, and make your ex admire you still, even if you hate each other's guts. You've still got what he was attracted to in the first place. Intelligence. Ruthlessness. It's just that the aggrieved spouse never thought those traits would be used to hurt him.

Mr. Radler won't look in his direction, but Lord Black reportedly glares at him in the courtroom, barely disguising his disgust as he scribbles furiously in his notebook.

Natch. He's the cuckold.

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