May 2021

What To Look For In The Ideal Business Partner

Rich Handler & Brian Friedman

20 years ago, I met Brian Friedman. He was not looking to re-establish a career in investment banking, had no experience in sales, trading or research, and did not want to help build or run another financial services company. He was looking for an investment banking organization to “hang around the hoop” in hopes of securing some unique and proprietary investment deal flow for his private equity firm. After spending about ten minutes with Brian, it was crystal clear to me how amazing he was, and I immediately came to one very obvious conclusion: “I need to get Brian to “hang around Jefferies’ hoop” ASAP so I can quickly lure him into being my partner. That way he can help our entire firm so we can start regularly “dunking basketballs.” It is now 20 years to the day later, but there is little doubt in my mind that, because of my brilliance in recognizing the specialness that is Brian, Jefferies is the firm that we all see and enjoy today. In honor of Brian Friedman’s incredible 20 years at Jefferies, I have decided that for May’s “Jef_All,” I am going to highlight just 10 characteristics that define Brian as my business partner. As you go through this list, I hope it will cause each of you to think about what you should look for in a professional business partner, and what traits you might want to bring to that partnership yourself.

  1. Humanity. When you get past Brian’s intelligence, breadth of experience, and relentless work ethic, there is a man filled with kindness, warmth and sincere caring for his co-workers and for the enormous circle of people who are fortunate enough to be touched by him. At the end of the day, he may not always wear his heart on his sleeve like at least someone else you all know well, but there is never a doubt that his good intentions are always heartfelt and sincere.
  1. Competence. Brian doesn’t drop the ball. It is one thing to “want the ball,” it’s another to always be a safe pair of hands. Brian makes this look easy, even when it is clearly not. In fact, in some crazy way, the more complex the set of problems facing Brian, the more he rises to the challenge.
  1. Transparent Communication. We do not always agree on things and have continuous debates regarding all things related to Jefferies. This is constant and occurs ten times every day. Brian says what he means and means what he says. There is no need to try to interpret any nuance. It is a gift to have constantly open lines of honest and confidential communication. It is also very rare.
  1. Complementary Skills. It is hard to explain how important it is to have a partner who is so good at many of the things that you do not excel at. Sure, there is overlap between the two of us, but Brian’s patience, calmness, attention to detail, and unique understandings of the strategic nuances of our industry are remarkable. Having his breadth liberates me to do my thing worry free. It’s also amazing to see how the rest of our senior leadership team have absorbed both of our skills/experience and combined them with their own unique abilities to really create a very special team.
  1. Goal Congruence. I have never once had to worry about Brian’s agenda since the day I met him. Professionally he wants what is best for Jefferies and all of our people, clients, and stakeholders. That is exactly how I bleed. When personal agenda is off the table, magic can happen.
  1. Time Horizon. Somehow I have found a partner who thinks in decades, just like I do, just like my mentors along the way (including the remarkable Joe Steinberg). This allows us to make the right decisions, which are often impossible if you are working month to month, quarter to quarter, or even year to year.
  1. Sense of Urgency. I may come across as living “in the moment,” but Brian is often a second ahead and never more than a second behind. I know like me, he sees all the great possibilities ahead of us and he doesn’t waste a moment. What is amazing is he gives off an aura of control and calmness, all while moving himself and everyone around him at light speed.
  1. Endurance. Nobody works harder than Brian. Nobody travels like Brian. Nobody has a schedule like Brian. Nobody even walks as fast as Brian.
  1. Tough Times. I say this often because it is one of the most important and defining of all human characteristics: You can only truly judge a person when times are really bad. I’ve had many periods in my career, especially during these past twenty years, where I found myself (and our company) in very ugly situations. Most (not all) of this was through no fault of ourselves, but it was bad. There is no better person on this planet to be in a foxhole with than Brian.
  1. Life Priorities. The only thing that Brian is more “all in” with than Jefferies is his family. I couldn’t respect a partner who thought otherwise, and Brian encompasses all that is right with setting priorities. Brian has an amazing partner with his wife Suzanne. She must be a saint for putting up with him because I do have another list of 10 things about Brian that I would love to share, but not today. Brian could not be prouder of his two children, Julia (32) and Daniel (29). Julia for now is in first place because of granddaughters Rae (4) and Hodaya (18 mos.) with her wonderful husband Michael. Daniel isn’t far behind as he is more professionally successful than Brian and I combined when we were his age. But his special wife Tatiana is really his major claim to fame.

Brian, congratulations on putting up with me for 20 years. More importantly, thank you for your constant, relentless, selfless, passionate, effective and critically important leadership in helping Jefferies emerge from these two decades in a position where the future is ours to define. I would not be here without you, nor would the rest of us. Congratulations on your first 20 years, and let’s get to it!

With awe and appreciation,

Rich and All of Jef

CEO, Jefferies Financial Group

[email protected]
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Pronouns: he, him, his