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 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.”

Read More

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? 

Read More

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).

Read More

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.  

Read More

The Joint Venture Operating Model Blueprint

By James Bamford | Tuesday, July 31, 2018
PERHAPS NO OTHER aspect of joint ventures has caused so much trouble as an ill-defined, outdated, or inappropriate
operating model.

In a general sense, an operating model is a high-level architecture of the organization – how the various structures, systems, processes, and people within the enterprise relate to each other to deliver the strategy. In JVs, the operating model is defined by the venture’s overall level of independence from – or dependence on – its shareholders ( Exhibit 1). Some joint ventures, like Dow Corning, Aera Energy, and Sony Ericsson, are highly independent. Others, including most upstream oil, gas and mining JVs, are operated by one partner.
Read More

Lighting the Way with Guiding Principles for Your Joint Venture

By James Bamford | Tuesday, July 24, 2018
IN A PREVIOUS INSIGHT we discussed the challenges of maintaining alignment in joint ventures across multiple levels and topics. In this article we will outline the how and the what. Over the last few years, we have worked with a number of JV Boards and management teams to help develop or revise Guiding Principles. We’ve learned a lot about what “good” looks like, what it takes to run a process that leads to real agreement, and the value that, when done well, such Guiding Principles create.
Read More