Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But, what happens when that horse and carriage takes an unexpected detour via the office? For many couples, the thought of mixing business with pleasure might seem like a relationship minefield to be avoided at all costs. After all, your workplace is the sanctuary you escape to when you need a time-out from your other half — your home away from home. It might surprise you, then, to learn that approximately 1.4 million businesses in the US are run by husband-and-wife teams, and that number is steadily rising. Call it serendipity or the practical desire to achieve some semblance of a work-life balance, but more and more couples are starting to realize the benefits of a business partnership with their partner in life.
My wife Michele and I are no strangers to the professional-romantic partnership. We co-founded online diamond and bridal jewelry retailer JamesAllen.com together with Oded Edelman (CEO) and Dean Lederman (COO). It all began in ’98 with my search for the perfect engagement ring. After several disappointing in-store experiences, I turned my attention to eBay where, incredibly, I managed to pick up a stunning diamond ring for half the price!
I became intrigued by the idea of selling high-quality diamond jewelry online and saw a real business opportunity there. Michele didn’t need much convincing — she packed up her job in retail and started the diamond business part-time from home. Then, as it grew into more than just a part-time venture, I ended up quitting my job as a computer programmer. When you’re young and in love, as we were, you think there’s no mountain you can’t climb. Little did we know that some 20 years later, we’d have the company that we have today, five children and hundreds of staff across three continents.
Work hard, play hard
I’m often asked, “When do you find time to raise a family and run a global business?” It’s a fair question, and I think the assumption is that we employ a small army of nannies, au pairs and housekeepers. But, the truth is that we’re salt-of-the-earth people and we prefer to do it all ourselves. Due to the nature of our jobs, we’re fortunate enough to have flexible schedules and are able to work remotely. Many nights we find ourselves sitting side by side on the couch, bathed in the glow of our laptops. It might not be everyone’s idea of domestic bliss, but somehow it works for us.
Part of being an executive in a company is managing your workload, making sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew and delegating where necessary. Michele and I are fortunate in that we have a great team around us who understand and respect our boundaries. They know we sometimes need to turn off our computers and phones and are perfectly capable of holding the fort in our absence. This takes some of the pressure off us, allowing us to spend quality time with our family and recharge our batteries. Maintaining that work-life balance can be tricky, but once you draw a line in the sand, it’s important that you and your employees don’t cross it.
Keeping the peace
There’s a famous joke that marriage is a relationship in which one person is always right and the other is the husband.
If you’re going to work with your spouse, you’d better learn to be diplomatic. It doesn’t matter what roles or titles or responsibilities you have; at the end of the day, you’re going home together. So, you’d better learn to figure things out in a way where everybody wins, or at least everybody is heard. One tip for when you run into an issue that you disagree on is to determine which of you has a stronger opinion on it — and give in to them. Having the ability to swallow your pride and compromise in these situations is a strength you’ll both come to appreciate.
When you’re in each other’s company full-time, differences of opinion are bound to come up. As long as you have mutual respect and recognize each other’s talents, those differences are much easier to navigate. Even though Michele and I work in the same physical location (our offices are next door to each other), we were able to delineate our roles early on. Michele’s experience meant she was suited to the retail side of the business, while I took charge of the website and all things technical. As the business matured and grew over the years, those lines became blurred, and that’s one of the challenges we’ve had to deal with. But, whenever the need arises, Michele and I will happily interact with one another around the office. And if things do turn sour, it’s important not to lose perspective; remember that you both have the company’s best interests at heart, even if you go about achieving your goals in very different ways.
Couples who marry their work and personal lives face a unique set of challenges. By balancing business and family, utilizing each other’s strengths, and learning the art of compromise, running a successful company with your spouse is not only possible but can be the perfect way for a married couple to take their relationship to the next level.