You've heard the saying "There's no 'i' in team," but for some multi-billionaires, the expression is more than a cliché - it's standard business practice. After all, if superheroes have sidekicks, then it makes sense that some of the world's most successful business people follow suit. So what are some of the most powerful partnerships in business today, and what makes them seemingly unstoppable? We tracked down the top five, in no particular order.
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- Team Steve
Friends Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak met at a Homebrew Computer Club meeting at Hewlett-Packard Co., where Wozniak was working in the early 1970s. When the duo decided to go into business together, they each sold some of their more expensive belongings to raise $1,300 to get started. They set to work building the machines that would eventually dramatically alter the way people communicate and acquire information.
In 1977, Jobs and Wozniak introduced the Apple II series, which was the first successful line of personal computers. After crashing a plane in 1981, the Woz (Wozniak's nickname) stepped back from Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) in order to recover and finish the undergraduate degree he'd abandoned for work. Jobs also left Apple, but when the company he went to was acquired by the same business he'd co-founded, he returned, eventually launching the highly popular iMac and iPod products.
According to Forbes Magazine, Jobs is worth $5.5 billion, remains the Chairman and CEO of Apple Inc., and also sits on the board for Walt Disney Company. Wozniak remains an employee of the company and reportedly still receives a paycheck.
- Omaha's Pride
Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO, and Charlie Munger, Vice-Chairman, comprise the powerful duo that runs Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A), one of the most successful conglomerates in the world. Both born and bred Omaha boys, they met for the first time in 1959, though they did not begin working directly together until much later. Munger, 86, has both expertise in law and investing, while Buffett, 79, became a shrewd investor at a young age, and worked throughout his life to build on that aspect of business.
Now, the two friends enjoy running the conglomerate, which has holdings in a wide range of businesses, from fast-food to insurance. The company's revenue reached more than $112 billion last year, making Warren Buffett one of the richest men in the world.
Their secret to a good working relationship? Earlier this year, Munger, 86, told Forbes Magazine that he and Buffett like the same types of jokes. "We find the same things humorous," he said. "That's why we get along so well." (To learn more, see Warren Buffett: The Road To Riches.)
- Neither Micro, nor Soft
Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer met at Harvard University in the mid 1970s, but Ballmer didn't join Microsoft until 1980, when he was hired by his friend. Ballmer's first job as a manager at the computer company earned him a modest salary of $50,000. Reporting to his buddy Bill, Ballmer managed several departments as the company launched enormously successful products like the Microsoft Windows operating system and the Microsoft Office software used in almost every business today. Ballmer eventually took over for Gates as CEO in 2000, and he's worth approximately $14.5 billion.
Gates consistently ranks as one of the richest people in the world with a net work of about $53 billion, and continues to serve as Chairman of the company. Although, the Microsoft giants have been extremely successful on the business front, rumours have circulated about the strength of the friendship - particularly during the period when Gates transferred power to his college buddy.
- The Google Guys
Sergey Brin and Larry Page started Google in 1996, when they were both PhD students at Stanford University, as part of a research project. Their project launched their now famous PageRank system, which determined a website's relevance in a new way that was appealing to internet users who wanted to find information quickly. The two students quickly found funding to launch the new search engine, and by selling advertising using keywords based on user searches and numerous acquisitions (including video site YouTube), the company only grew. By 2004, they went public.
In 2007, the company launched Google Street View, allowing people to view cities online as one, large, interactive photograph. Although the two friends have been criticized for selling out and not respecting personal privacy, can they really be blamed? Brin, whose current title is technology president, is worth about $17.5 billion at age 36. Page, 37, serves as products president, and is worth approximately the same. Google is now headed up by CEO Eric E. Schmidt, 55.
- Koch & Winkler
Charles and David Koch's father and his own sidekick, Lewis Winkler, invented a new way of refining crude oil and creating gasoline in 1925. After facing problems with patent infringement in the U.S., Koch turned to the Soviet Union, where he became uncomfortable doing business under Communist rule. Eventually, his son, Charles, joined the company and after his father's death, he and his brother David each controlled 42% of the company.
Now, Charles and David are worth approximately $17.5 billion each, and head up one of the most successful privately owned conglomerates in the U.S., with businesses in petroleum, pulp and paper, polymers, ranching, fertilizer and more. (For more, check out The 10 Greatest Entrepreneurs.)
The Bottom Line
So what does an unbeatable duo make? Well, it certainly seems that computers are a good way to go. But even though they say that you should never go into business with a friend, that friendship-ending venture could prove profitable one day.
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Google Gains, Taxpayers Pay.