James Bamford

Jim is a co-founder of Water Street Partners, where he serves a global client base across industries on joint venture issues. He has supported more than 200 joint venture transactions and restructurings during his career, and has worked extensively on JV governance, organizational, and commercial matters. Prior to Water Street, he co-led the Joint Venture Practice at McKinsey & Company.

Recent Posts

Making Alignment Real in Joint Ventures: Board Concurrence, Minutes, and the Post-Meeting Memo

By James Bamford | Tuesday, February 12, 2019

IT MAY BE AS DRY AS unbuttered toast but chew on this: Experienced JV CEOs use a variety of seemingly mundane pre-, post-, and within-Board meeting techniques to drive real, rather than perceived, alignment across their ventures. Our research has consistently shown that misalignment – whether among the owners, between the owners and management, or even within one owner company – is the single largest challenge facing joint ventures.

Every year, Water Street Partners hosts a JV CEO Roundtable in Washington DC. In our most recent roundtable, the discussion turned to how JV CEOs structure and manage Board conversations to foster alignment. That conversation unearthed three subtle practices that hold potentially broad relevance: the use of Board concurrence rather than approval, post-meeting memos, and the restructuring of JV Board agendas to drive alignment.

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Shareholder Stewardship of Joint Venture Employees: Opening the Aperture

By James Bamford | Tuesday, January 29, 2019

TENS OF MILLIONS of people are employed in joint venture companies around the world. In many cases, these ventures are partly-owned by large national and international companies. Today, Siemens, IBM, Royal Dutch Shell, General Motors, Airbus, and Nestle each have ownership interests in joint venture companies that employ tens of thousands of people. Typically, a tiny fraction of staff are seconded, or loaned, employees from one of the shareholders, while the vast majority are direct employees of the joint venture company.

Are shareholders doing enough to steward these employees – using their considerable scope, capabilities, networks, and development opportunities to enhance the level of engagement and employee value proposition of those directly employed by joint ventures?

In our experience, the answer is no.

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Making JV Governance Sing: How to Use a Shareholders' Committee

By James Bamford | Tuesday, October 16, 2018

ONE OF THE ENDURING tenets of good joint venture governance is the central importance of getting true decision makers from each shareholder in the same room, talking directly to each other. In many JVs, however, the actual decision makers are too senior, too busy, or otherwise unwilling to serve on the JV Board or equivalent body. As one European aerospace executive put it: “I don’t have the time – or the interest – to fly halfway around the world once per quarter to attend a day-long Board meeting spent reviewing budgets, plans, and operational performance.” 

It’s a fair point.

But when the true decisions makers operate outside the governance structure, bad things can happen. Decisions are delayed. Misalignments fester. Issues are not raised, and management is surprised. And Board members feel disempowered and not accountable for outcomes. One JV Director summed up his governance context this way: “We operate
in an Oz-like environment, where our business unit president is the Wizard, making all our decisions from behind a curtain.”

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Small Joint Venture Portfolios, Big Consequences

By James Bamford | Tuesday, September 18, 2018

HUNDREDS OF companies across scores of countries have formed three or more new joint ventures in the last decade (Exhibit 1).  The JV portfolios of some of these companies like ExxonMobil, DowDupont, and Vodafone – are enormous, representing a material portion of the company’s assets, revenue, or income. But in other companies such as Renault, Alcatel-Lucent, and Amyris, the portfolios are much smaller, often containing no more than 3 to 15 JVs. Not only are these portfolios small, but they are often a motley lot – with individual ventures scattered around the world, scoped and structured in very different ways, and governed on a one-off basis by local business unit leaders (Exhibit 2).

How should such a company think about small JV portfolio governance? 

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When a JV Must Do an (Uneven) Deal with its Parent Companies

By James Bamford | Tuesday, August 28, 2018

BECAUSE MANY JVs are closely related to – or even directly connected with – parent company businesses, opportunities often emerge for the JV to create value by working with the parents in new and uneven ways. This might mean developing new products, functionality, or technologies favored by one parent. It might mean allowing the JV to enter markets where one parent company already has a competitive presence. It might mean having the JV consolidate certain functions or
assets with one parent company in order to reduce costs or avoid future capital investments (Exhibit 1).

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Board Ballet: Choreographing the Joint Venture Board Agenda

By James Bamford | Tuesday, August 21, 2018

FOR BETTER OR WORSE, the vast majority of time and attention that JV Board Directors spend thinking about the business or asset happens within the narrow confines of Board and committee meetings. As a result, orchestrating the Board’s annual agenda is a critical tool for JV Chairs and CEOs to engage, energize, and get value out of the Board.

But this valuable time isn’t always optimized. Many Board members tell us that their meetings suffer from disorganization that seriously limits the effectiveness of their time (Exhibit 1). What’s worse is that all too often, near-term items like performance reporting, operations, budget, and other routine matters take up close to 50% of the average JV Board meeting, crowding out important issues like strategy, talent, and self-governance – if they’re even addressed at all (Exhibit 2). Similarly, not enough thought is given to the mix of time – the amount of time spent in full-Board meetings vs. breakouts, and the split between decision vs. discussion time, or formal vs. informal interactions.  

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