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‘You can’t do everything by yourself’: In the partnership trenches with Petter Lee-Johannessen

When two corporate entities come together, both successful in their own rights, the expectations for the partnership loom large. The truth, according to long-time corporate partnership executive Petter Lee-Johannessen, is that it doesn’t always work out as planned.

Today Lee-Johannessen is SVP Partnerships at DNB, one of the largest financial services groups in the Nordics. He’s been forming partnerships for more than a decade in both Norway and in Asia, and he said that there’s been a noticeable change of attitude towards the idea of teaming up—sometimes even with the competition.

What has influenced corporate attitudes towards partnerships in recent years?

Petter Lee-Johannessen: I see four key things that have triggered a change and prompted more partnership willingness. 

The first is digitalization. Companies realize that they simply can’t keep up with the pace of technological change all on their own while running their day-to-day business. 

The second is about customer demand. People expect more, and they want it now. This is tough to deliver on your own. 

The third is the competitive landscape. It’s easier for newcomers to enter, investments are being poured into startups, and we’re seeing a lot more industry crossover, like when a retailer decides to become a bank. 

The final factor is the increasing regulation. New laws and requirements are emerging, and this often requires a change in both mindset and in the overall operating environment. Essentially, it’s much harder to meet all these demands on your own these days.

There’s a lot already out there about winning partnerships, but what are some of the warning signs that the partnership may not survive?

PL: It’s important to acknowledge that not all the partnerships you see announced in the media are successful in the end. And it’s even more important to understand why. When you combine the challenge of making products and services with the added complexity of doing that with someone else, you come up against all kinds of roadblocks. 

It’s important that the two partners are a good cultural match from the start, with similar values and a shared idea of success. It’s also about expectation management. You must have clear and open communication from start to finish. And you need to set common goals and a shared roadmap so that everyone is on the same mission.

How do you know when the partnership is working as it should?

PL: What we tend to see is that it often takes time to get results in a partnership. So, when you start to see shared progress on the mutual goals set, when the project is properly anchored across both organizations, and when both parties feel a strong sense of ownership towards the project and its success, then there’s reason to be optimistic.

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