When Peter Munk met David Gilmour, they were pursuing the same young woman in a downtown Toronto restaurant called, appropriately, Diana Sweets.
For Mr. Munk and Mr. Gilmour, the product of that quest was a life-long attachment - not to the young woman, who shall remain nameless, but to business, new venture ideas, and, to some extent, each other.
In the past 55 years, they have collectively started at least a dozen companies, including Clairtone, the stereo and TV manufacturer that was their first venture together - and their one great failure - in the 1960s.
They have supported each other though marriages, triumphs and tragedies, but they have gone their separate business ways. Mr. Gilmour, at 76, has become a media and water tycoon and Mr. Munk, 80, is the world's premier gold baron, the chairman (and acting CEO) of Barrick Gold Corp.
But the flame of the friendship has not dimmed.
"Partnership is a lot like marriage - the financial stresses, all too close for comfort, the competitive nature," Mr. Gilmour observes. Then he turns to his friend Mr. Munk and quips: "But in a marriage, at least there is sex to make it up."
In the Munk-Gilmour relationship, a joshing affection is the constant bond. "He's the brother I never had," says Mr. Gilmour of Mr. Munk, who in turn says "there is nothing I could not talk to David about."
Mr. Gilmour, who divides his time between New York, Florida and Fiji, returned to Toronto this week for the launch of a new book, The Art of Clairtone, a paean to the stereo company's rich design legacy, co-written by Mr. Munk's daughter Nina and Rachel Gotlieb, a design curator.
They are the Odd Couple of business - Mr. Gilmour, Anglo old money in his double-breasted suit; Mr. Munk, mouth swollen from dental surgery, his voice carrying the accent of his native Hungary.
Together, they have invested in South Pacific hotels, in Barrick and TrizecHahn, the commercial property company that was sold in 2006. Mr. Gilmour founded Fiji Water, which he sold for $150-million (U.S.), and then bought Zinio, his current passion that he describes as "the world's largest digital newsstand." He also owns a luxury resort in the Fiji Islands and women's magazine VIV.
They discuss their lives and lessons:
Gilmour: My father told me when I was 16 , 'Son, the spouting whale gets the harpoon.' Unlike Peter, you very seldom hear from me, and I love it that way. It's great to have a partnership where neither of us was fighting for the microphone.
ON BEING ENTREPRENEURIAL
Gilmour: I am more the entrepreneurial type who likes challenges of starting up, and Peter loves growing a colossus. Once it reaches a critical mass, I kind of get bored sitting around a boardroom table. In my companies we don't have board meetings. They are all very private.
Munk: He can't make it bigger, that's why he does that. It's a rationalization. No, I am pulling your leg. He may just be more creative than I am.
ON SHARING LEADERSHIP
Gilmour: We did not fight a lot. We usually came out of a room in agreement. One had to persuade the other.
Munk: You fight in business because, when you go either up or down, there is a different dynamic at work. Either the partners are greedy and they fight about the proceeds when things start going well, or they get desperate when the business goes down and they start to blame the other guy. We went up and down a few times.
Gilmour: But the key was, Peter, that we would come into the room with two different ideas and we always left the room with one decision. Where it goes wrong so often is that people are too proud to say 'Hey, that's a better idea than I have.'
THE LESSON OF CLAIRTONE
Gilmour: Chance favours those who are prepared. There are five elements to running a business - design, marketing plan, people, finance and production. When you are in your 20s, you can lose sight of those things. What Peter did brilliantly, after Clairtone, was that we always entered the next business with a flawless plan.
ON ALLYING WITH GOVERNMENTS
Gilmour: One principle I learned from Clairtone's partnership with Nova Scotia was: Government is the worst partner and worst lender because your goals are so diametrically opposed. Governments want instant gratification. Never would I do it again. Even if I tried to think about it, I'd have to lie down till the feeling went away.
Munk: Wherever we go, everybody screws around with those little BlackBerrys. But Jim Balsillie [manufacturer RIM's co-CEO]told me as much as we think it is omnipresent, when it comes to the fast-growing BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China - the market penetration is less than 1 per cent. Imagine the potential growth.
Gilmour: I don't have a BlackBerry. You pay people to do that. Yet my whole business life has been dealing with the digital world. With these new digital readers [on which Zinio will operate] you get on the plane, and you have in your briefcase 500 magazines and 200 books. There are no switches, you just touch the device. To me paper is the last living dinosaur.
Gilmour: I have been involved in eight business, and Clairtone was the only unsuccessful one. That was our PhD in business … With Fiji Water, it was a real challenge because we had 628 competitors in the United States. I felt it was a better product and it was a question of people, marketing, design.
Munk: I wouldn't call Clairtone unsuccessful, because it achieved more than many more businesses that were classified as successful. It created products, it created a Canadian awareness. Finance isn't the only criterion on which to judge a human activity.