Opposites Attract Success: Leveraging Strengths in a Business Relationship

James Amato and Terry McKee, owners of Nuovo Salon & Spas in Sarasota, FL
James Amato and Terry McKee, owners of Nuovo Salons in Sarasota, FL

Going into business with a partner is not a decision to take lightly. Personality, professionalism, integrity and management skills all have to be analyzed in a potential partner.

And when a partnership doesn’t work, a business is at stake—employees and clients are both negatively affected by a relationship gone bad.

When Terry McKee went into business in 1986, his decision to do so with a partner happened organically.

“We were colleagues behind the chair and both knew there was a better way,” he says.

After a few years in business, McKee’s partner decided he wanted out of the partnership due to personal reasons. James Amato had begun as a stylist at the salon, but his talent was quickly recognized and he became the director of education.

In 1992, he bought into the business and became McKee’s partner at Nuovo in Sarasota, Florida. Again, the partnership came about organically and it wasn’t until they started working together that McKee began to notice and appreciate what each of them was bringing to the party.

Yin and Yang

In the beginning, however, appreciation wasn’t always what Amato and McKee felt for each other.

“Our personalities are completely opposite,” says McKee. “I see big picture, he sees details. I think, ‘what if,’ and he thinks ‘what is.’”

These differences used to cause major upsets between the two and there was always a bone of contention.

He wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t be more like him and I felt like he was always raining on my parade,” he says.

It all came to a head in 1997 when the duo was at Neill Quality College for a class.

“We had this huge collision right out on the front lawn of the building,” says McKee. “I’m walking and he’s yelling and people were looking.

But then they read an article they had received in their class about how companies were putting workers together who have opposing views and letting them have a controlled collision.

“They were using that creative abrasion as energy to propel the company,” he says. “The only rule was you had to honor each other’s perspective and know they were bringing something valuable to the table, even if it seemed foreign to you.”

This was a huge turning point for McKee and Amato.

“We realized we each had something valuable, and if we were both identical, we’d create inertia, and the business wouldn’t move forward,” says McKee.

They were also both very aware of how their upsets affected their staff as well. “The team can feel it,” says McKee. “They know, and that’s not what people instinctively want to be led by. They want a united front.”

One argument the two had sent them both to their own camps for the night to think about the partnership and what it really meant. The next day, they returned, both realizing it was too valuable of a friendship and partnership to give up on.

“We had a lot of withdrawals from our trust accounts, and we had to rebuild our trust and partnership,” says McKee.

A Business Divided

In 2012, McKee and Amato celebrated 20 years in business together. Currently, Nuovo has three locations and the duo has done it all when it comes to working on the business—coaching, therapy, Qnity, Neill Quality College and more. They both understand the salons’ big picture and the roles they play in it.

While McKee is more about how the salon feels, Amato is all about how it works. And they cross over everywhere.

“For example, we’re equally financially literate, but he’ll capture more details,” says McKee. “And I’ll have a more comprehensive, conceptual grasp than he might.”

As an entrepreneur, McKee is stronger, while Amato is a stronger manager. And this, says McKee, is a very good thing.

“I don’t need another person with vision,” he says. “I need someone who enables me to move into that vision in a step-by-step, practical way.”

Amato’s strength in implementing McKee’s strategies and ideas has allowed the two to create a stronger salon culture and thriving business.

“There are times I’ll be describing something and go into full-blown vision mode and move all over the place,” says McKee. “I’m not moving in a linear fashion, and giving people bits and pieces—but it makes perfect sense to me.”

He adds, “James will say to me, ‘Terry, I know exactly where you were going with that, but you left all these other people in the dust.’ So, in a really kind way, he’ll help me lineate it so people who need history, data and proof can hear and process.”

Through years of ups and downs, the two are now in a place where they acknowledge and celebrate each other’s brilliance in different areas.

You don’t always get your way,” says McKee. “But we can now recognize each other’s points without having to flip-flop over to them—a lot of good can come out of creative friction.”

Moving Forward

McKee and Amato used to be famous for spiraling down and colliding with each other. But now, they recognize that feeling as it’s happening and control it.

We’re both so well-trained now in looking at the bigger topic and knowing it’s not about each other,” says McKee.

“He knows I need him to able to go to the big picture and look at possibilities and I know he needs history, data and proof,” he says.

“James is willing to jump into new areas of business, technology and leadership, and I have to be willing to hold back a bit sometimes,” adds McKee.

McKee and Amato have had to stick to their strengths throughout their growth. They’ve also been true to one of their salon’s major core values—personal accountability.

“There really is an ‘I’ in team,” says McKee. “It’s most important that we’re all personally accountable first. It’s not always about what the other guy is doing wrong—what is MY responsibility?

A strong part of the Nuovo salon culture is this responsibility. The owners want employees to ask: How can I contribute? How can I be of service?

“It takes a lot of work to keep that going,” says McKee.

Strategic planning helps keep everyone on track and moving in the direction McKee and Amato envision.

We’re really big on strategic planning, and meet with our leadership team every other week for four hours,” says McKee. “We use the Qnity 9 Grid, and then we create an action list, assign responsibility, and from there comes accountability.”

Having someone who is committed and taking responsibility for each part of the strategic plan—they are expected to report back before the next meeting—keeps Nuovo growing and continually moving forward.

“Structure creates creativity on steroids,” maintains McKee. “When we’re doing a Mind Map in a 9 Grid, nobody’s idea is too crazy—you never know what you’ll reel in.”

And with McKee and Amato leading with their strengths, there’s nothing the Nuovo team can’t accomplish.

We watch what’s going on and learn from it,” says McKee. “James will tease me with what we’ve been through, but when you really look at it, we’ve learned a lot from our crazy adventures.”


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