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Six pairs of powerful peers from business and politics

Voco Team
Image of the Palace of Westminster at sunset

We've already looked at how those at the top of their sporting, ahem, games turn to the support of their peers to make sense of the intensity of their chosen careers, but what about those who walk the corridors of power...?

Both business and political titans alike more often than not have a peer in their corner, someone else to bounce ideas off and to strategise with as they navigate complex situations and take major decisions.

So here's our take on some of the most influential and enduring peer partnerships in the worlds of business and politics.

Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison

After founding two of the most valuable companies in history, Jobs and Ellison formed a strong bond and friendship that lasted for decades until Jobs’ death in 2011. 

Oracle’s Ellison helped mastermind Jobs’ return to the then ailing Apple in the mid 90s, although he’s quick to say Jobs rejected his initial plan just to buy back the company, and instead decided to win it back by taking the moral high ground and convincing the board that he should be CEO again. What happened next is business history.

"If there was something that Steve wanted to talk about, and there always was, we'd go for a walk," said Ellison, and the two were famous for those long walks, during which they would hash out whatever business decisions they needed to make. The practice continued right throughout Jobs' battle with cancer, which saw the walks diminish, “until near the end we'd kind of walk around the block”.

Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King

It was way back in the 1970s where two novice journalists met at a Baltimore radio station and formed a close bond as peers in a competitive industry, where young Black women were much in the minority. Despite very different backgrounds, Winfrey and King connected over their (unpopular) music tastes and had each other’s backs from the get-go.

Their long friendship is as solid as their careers are storied, with Winfrey building a billion dollar media empire and King anchoring one of America’s biggest network news shows, and both supporting each other along every step of their journeys to media-legend status.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates

The founder of the world’s biggest software company and the legendary ‘Sage of Omaha’ have a friendship that stretches back to 1991 when they were first introduced by Washington Post editor, Meg Greenfield, and hit it off immediately. 

Over the subsequent three decades they’ve not only supported, and learned from, each other with regards to business, but have changed the philanthropy landscape forever with their Giving Pledge campaign, which encourages wealthy people to give away at least half of their wealth. Gates has also credited Buffett as being the inspiration behind the creation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as being its most generous donor. “Everyone should have a friend as thoughtful and kind as Warren Buffett,” Gates said, adding that he is “constantly learning things from him.”

Their friendship and mutual respect runs so deep that Buffett has never invested in or held a board position at Microsoft, claiming it would be a conflict of interest. They’re said to still have a standing appointment for a one hour call every week, although it often overruns, and, back when speed dials were still a thing, Buffett’s number was the only one on Gates’ aside from his home digits.

Barack Obama and Angela Merkel

These two former world leaders were very much peers, representing the US and European perspectives during some of the most tumultuous events in recent history. While initially there was suspicion, well at least from Merkel who was said to view Obama as more spin than substance, a close relationship and respect formed between the two during their years in power. 

While Merkel’s GDR upbringing and taciturn nature may have been anathema to many leaders of the Free World, Obama found his German counterpart “worthy of applause” and said of Merkel “she has been an outstanding political leader, not only for Germany, but for Europe and the world" and that “this is as important a relationship as I’ve had during the course of my presidency.”

Ed Balls and George Osbourne

Love them or hate them, Balls and Osbourne have, slightly inexplicably, become one of the most compelling peer partnerships in British politics. Former mortal enemies when Osbourne was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Balls was his Shadow, the two formed an unlikely alliance while acting as pundits during the 2017 UK General Election, where their mutual respect and focus on agreeable disagreement made them the standout stars of the night. 

They’ve since gone on to collaborate further, and are even launching a podcast this autumn, with Osbourne commenting: “Ed and I are frenemies – once bitter foes, and now firm friends. When we talk politics and economics I find myself talking to someone who brings a different perspective but with an insight and intelligence I rate.”

Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart

Another successful cross-party peer collaboration, although superstar podcasters, ex-Labour comms maestro, Campbell, and former Tory minister, Stewart, didn’t even know each other before they launched their chart-topping ‘The Rest is Politics’ pod. 

But based on the idea of sharing perspectives from their differing political viewpoints, the two politicos have quickly formed a formidable partnership where they push each other to see the the political events of the day from each other’s point of view, as well as analysing the policy decisions made by their respective parties, and seeing where they can find common ground.

Want to find your own powerful peer to help scale your career...? Join Voco now to seamlessly connect with likeminded, relevant peers for impactful conversations about work. We can't guarantee you'll rule the world though!

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