Should a Husband and Wife Run a Business Together?

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seagull management styleMy second ex-wife used to practice what I jokingly called a ‘Seagull Management ’ style, which involved swooping in, making a lot of squawking and flapping noises, dumping a load of ‘you-know-what’ on the astonished staff and flying out again, leaving me to clean up the mess!

It wasn’t always like that and I’m being a little flippant here. We were actually a dynamic and effective management team, who complemented each other really well and who actually built a pretty successful business mini-empire together, until it went wrong for us.

Over a seven year period together though, we managed the following:

 (Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net, picture by papaija2008)

 

 

  • Bought out an unproductive business partner
  • Expanded our tourist accommodation business from 45 to 60 beds
  • Battled the liquor stores in court and added a liquor licence and bar
  • Bought a tour bus and added a tours and charters business
  • Set up a car dealership, mechanical workshop and hire car business
  • Bought 4 apartments, leased another three and set up medium term accommodation
  • Managed a strata company and were building caretakers in our spare time
  • Set up a short-term employment agency
  • Set up a cleaning business
  • Set up an office relocations business
  • Bought an old doctor’s surgery and converted it to rentable accommodation
  • Travelled to the USA, Malta, England, Ireland and Tasmania

I’m not telling you that to blow my own trumpet. I do, however reflect on that time and believe that we achieved a heck of a lot together and it was quite a journey. Most of the above items took a lot more work than most people would imagine. My wife said she could never have done those things on her own, though she believed that with my business background, I could have done it alone.

I’m confident that I could have, but would I have done so without her? Perhaps not, though I did keep going and setting up other businesses on my own.

There is an old saying that ‘Behind every great man, there’s an even greater woman!’ and I have no doubt that a major part of my motivation was to deliver the end result that she told me she wanted, so I could show her how much I loved her.

As it turned out, the negative effects of numerous tourism downturns (Bali bombings, 9/11, Asian bird flu) put us under a lot of pressure. When things are going well and you are succeeding, life is a lot of fun. When things go badly and you face adversity, that’s when your true mettle is tested.

The truth is that my calmer nature enabled me to cope better with the pressures of adversity and roll with the punches. My wife didn’t handle it well, so it stopped being fun for her and in 2003, she ran away back to England and a job as a checkout operator in a village shop. (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, just observing the complete polarity in her desire to avoid responsibility and pressure – behaviour that in a man might be labelled a mid-life crisis).

What actually happened was that she woke up one day to the realisation that she had strayed way outside her comfort zones. She had never imagined herself as a Director of a company operating multiple businesses, it had just crept up on her as we continuously evolved our brand. The result was a severe identity crisis and a panic reaction. Unable to recognise who she had become, she reverted back to the free-spirited, unencumbered girl she had once been, leaving me to battle on alone.

Now when I work with clients in my capacity as a business and life coach and mentor, I am very aware of the importance of keeping husband and wife teams on the same page. Here are a few key points that I believe are crucial to making it work:

  • Be clear about why you are building the business together and how it fits into your overall plan for your life together
  • Discuss whether you will have an exit strategy (sell the business at some point) or a succession strategy (pass it on to children, staff management or some other plan)
  • Clearly define the roles and responsibilities you both have, so that you can effectively share ownership with clear boundaries
  • Discuss and work around each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so that you complement each other
  • Decide in advance how you will resolve disagreements – will one of you have the final say or will you discuss an issue until you can reach a compromise solution?
  • Decide and agree upon how you will present yourselves to your staff – as jointly in charge or as first and second in command, overall or in certain areas or divisions of the business
  • Have your arguments in private – staff really don’t want to squirm in front of your domestic battles!
  • Have a plan to keep your work and home life compartmentalised and that can be a tough one to remember.

With the last point, it’s always going to be a balancing act. To make a business survive and prosper, there is a required level of commitment that may entail putting in extra hours or doing some of the work at home. When you are a husband and wife team, it can be much harder for one or both of you to leave work at work.

Couple walking on beachEven when you go out on a ‘date night’, it can be hard, maybe even impossible not to discuss work. When one of you has managed to switch off, the other one brings up a work issue in conversation.

Some people can flick the switch and other people can’t. It becomes so much easier either way, if you both are clear and agree on why you are in business and what the intended outcome will be for you and your family.

(Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by photostock)

Should you run a business together? Only you can decide if it can work for you. Then when you have made the decision, make it the right one!

If you require further information or seek help in any aspect of this topic, please contact me via this website or by phone on (08) 9328 2203.

Best of luck and take note of this – life passes by quickly, so remember to have fun in whatever you are doing for a living.

by Tony Inman

TONY INMAN is the CEO of Club Red Inspiration. An entrepreneur who has set up over 20 businesses, Tony is a business, life and mindset coach, consultant, mentor, presenter and trainer. A former mentor at Curtin University’s Centre for Entrepreneur-ship, he has coached hundreds of business owners and executives across the globe. Tony is the author of several books including ‘If Life’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Well.’ He is passionate about helping people to fulfil their potential and follow their dreams.