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Articles - Entrepreneurial Couples

Preparing spouse to manage business can ease succession later

Thursday, March 25, 2004

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Jay was 28 when he founded his sign business. He and his wife Teddie were thrilled when they opened their storefront. As a young couple, they had a lot of energy and worked long hours getting the office and shop ready, buying supplies, developing a business plan, joining the local chamber and greeting their first customers.

Jay took over full management of the operation while Teddie kept her full time job as an account executive for a women's fashion company. But Teddie was there through all of the growing pains of the business too. She helped with billing and emptied the trash. She took messages for Jay at home in the evening when he was working late. The goal was to build the business to a level where she would quit her job and come to work with Jay. In the meantime her job provided a steady paycheck and other benefits such as insurance.

As the business grew, so did Jay and Teddie's family and responsibilities. By the time their second daughter was born, the sign business was doing well enough to support the young family without Teddie's income. It would be tight, but the couple decided to take the plunge. Teddie quit her job to have the flexibility to care for her children and help out at the business.

For years Jay and Teddie ran the business this way. Although they shared equally in the ownership of the business and both worked long hours, Jay was really the manager and Teddie the home manager. Teddie would leave early to pick the kids up from school and get them to soccer practice. On some mornings she would come in late to the office because there was a dental appointment or a school field trip. At the office, however, she was fully in charge of her department . . . everything that Jay didn't do, such as the bookkeeping, billing, purchasing and replanting the flowerbeds by the front door. Jay did the management, hiring and firing, marketing, customer service and the technical work. Amid all of this the children got more involved with the business, at first just watching dad build a sign, and later learning complex computer work.

If you are typical of most family business owners, you could probably plug your names into this scenario and change only a few details to make it your own story. Likewise, if you are typical of most small business owners, you do not have a succession plan. You have been so busy establishing and growing your business that you haven't looked that far ahead. You may not even have the confidence yet that your business will be around that long. Or you may decide to sell the business and build several other empires before you retire or die. When you were getting your business underway, it never occurred to you that you were building a legacy; you were just going after your dream.

If you are among the rare few who have considered succession planning, more than likely you and your spouse have discussed which child is best suited to be president or if management responsibilities should be shared by siblings. If you are in partnership with your brother, mother, sister-in-law, or some other family member, you probably have a legal and financial plan for how the partnership will transition should one or the other of you die or wish to be bought out. However, if the family business is a sole proprietorship such as Jay and Teddie have, and the husband is the founder and president, it's highly unlikely that you have considered your wife as a successor to the business leadership. Yet it is the wife who is most likely to be thrown into that position with the death of the founder where no succession plan has been established.

In 1984 McKinley conducted an interesting study in which she found that a widow was more than willing to take over management of the business upon her husband's death, especially if she had been working with her husband. But even among those widows not working in the business side-by-side with their husbands, there was a strong desire to take over the management. These widows reported that the business was very meaningful to them that it was a part of their identity, that they had psychologically helped build the business. They did not want the business to pass out of their hands, even if they didn't know how to run it.

Furthermore, most of the widows studied did not know how to manage their husband's business, because they had not been trained. Their function had been auxiliary. They provided support such as Teddie has done for Jay. Therefore, these widows, untrained in the ins and outs of managing the family business, had to turn to their attorneys, CPAs and other advisors to educate themselves about the business. This is not sufficient training for the complexity of running a small business, as any business owner knows. But these particular women were determined and they learned as their husbands had done . . .by the seat of their pants.

This seat-of-the-pants training may have been sufficient for the founder, but it seems a waste to have the successor not benefit by her predecessor's lessons. Unless the business is a professional practice requiring college and certification that your wife could not readily get upon your death, preparing your wife to take over the business is a logical and practical step for most business owners. A side benefit is that once she is trained, the founder can turn his interests elsewhere, such as expansion or developing a second business entity. Growth of an empire is possible only when you have the flexibility and freedom to explore uncharted territory. If you are busy manning the helm, your growth will be limited to raising prices on product or adding a new line.

Preparing a wife for the presidency is no easy feat, however. It means acknowledging that the founder may die or wish to move onto something else. It means putting things into writing, such as compensation plans for your wife. It means letting go of control and allowing your wife to know all of the company secrets. It means that the marriage itself will be challenged. As the protégé grows in ability and leadership, the mentor may find himself eased out of power before he is ready. Can your marriage stand the strain of your wife being the boss, for example?

Making your wife your equal partner at work (provided she wants the job) and teaching her everything you know, will provide a solid succession plan. She will most likely be a devoted fan of yours and the business, and therefore a loyal and responsible guardian for the business. She will be a much better prepared widow than McKinley found in her study and less likely to lose the business. However, this also means redesigning the business today to accommodate two owners, two managers, two leaders. The consensus model of marriage that most Americans accept as the standard today will be brought into the business setting. Not only will husband and wife have to adjust to this change, but so will employees, customers and others used to a more hierarchical model.

Be prepared to change the structure of management when your wife becomes your management partner. No longer can the founder fly by the seat of his pants. Although you may feel that your style is cramped when there are two of you to answer to, remember that having a well trained successor (and one who loves you) means that the business has a much more bright and stable future.

Defining entrepreneurial style as a couple can keep business from getting complicated

Thursday, November 27, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

If you have read my columns in the past, you are aware that I frequently refer to couples in business as entrepreneurial couples. Now that I have bandied the term around for several years, it is probably time to formally define just what I mean.

Some of you may not even recognize yourselves as entrepreneurial couples because you have always been entrepreneurial, or come from entrepreneurial families, or the style is so common (especially here in the Northwest) that you never considered a definition important.

However, defining the type of entrepreneurship that you and your spouse share can be very enlightening. Knowing who you are and why you are that way will assist in problem solving and future planning, as the following case examples will show.

Even though there are always exceptions to the rule there are three basic entrepreneurial couple styles to start with. You may be a blend of two or even three and you may have changed your style over time. However, I am sure you will find your bedrock image in one of these styles. They include the solo-entrepreneur with a supportive spouse, the dual-entrepreneurial couple, and the copreneurial couple.


Bob and Carol used to work together in their successful nursery and garden supply business, but Bob has since returned to his old employer leaving Carol to manage the business on her own, as a solo-entrepreneur. Bob has become the supportive spouse. He is employed elsewhere, providing emotional support to his wife's business, but not really involved in the day-to-day management and headaches of running it. Carol, on the other hand, recognizes her talent as an entrepreneur and is much better suited to running the operation on her own as a sole proprietor.


Another style involves dual-entrepreneurs like Sharon and Dave, who each run separately their respective businesses. Sharon is a realtor and Dave runs several successful small businesses. Dual-entrepreneurs are like solo-entrepreneurs in that each spouse is an entrepreneurial spirit tending to their own sole-proprietorship (or even partnership with a non-family member). They also may function as a support person to their entrepreneurial spouse. What distinguishes dual-entrepreneurial couples from the others is that they each have the entrepreneurial spirit yet they are not in business partnership with their spouses.

Copreneurial couples

Larry and Dorothy, who for 15 years have worked side by side building their farming enterprises, are a copreneurial couple. Copreneurs share ownership, management and responsibility for their business as full-time partners. Copreneurs are different from dual-entrepreneurs in that they operate a joint venture. One partner may have more of the entrepreneurial spirit than the other partner, but they both are equally committed to the enterprise as owners and managers.

Defining your style

So what is the real value of knowing your style and that of your partner? Stan and Rhonda didn't evaluate their entrepreneurial style before they launched their successful retail chain, but they could have avoided many painful bumps in the road if they had taken the time to really talk and learn about each other.

Stan was restless and wanted to try his hand at running his own successful business. When Stan began talking about starting his own business, Rhonda agreed that they made an excellent team not only because of their love for each other, but because of their combination of professional skills. She was excited to get started on the venture.

Clearly though, this was Stan's adventure. True to his organizer style, he researched the marketplace to discover the most advantageous industry and location for his new business. Unlike the entrepreneur who pursues a business because they have a passion for a particular industry or product, Stan is the type of entrepreneur who can take any good idea and make it into a profitable venture.

When Stan discovered the right business for him, a store that specializes in a variety of environmentally friendly products for the home remodeler, the couple began the second phase of development. The plan was for Rhonda to keep her job for the steady income and benefits. Stan quit his job and threw himself into the work of getting the business funded and off the ground. Rhonda helped in the evenings and on weekends with whatever odd jobs Stan could not get to.

In this manner the business grew from one retail outlet to two within three years. At this stage the couple needed to reassess Rhonda's role. Stan could no longer manage alone and still achieve his dream of building a franchise business. Although Rhonda was ready to quit her job and come to work full time with her husband, Stan was not emotionally ready to share entrepreneurship with Rhonda. Their relationship worked fine when Rhonda was a supportive spouse, but when she left her job, Stan felt that she was usurping his territory. After a tumultuous year of trying to work together as copreneurs, Stan and Rhonda realized that Stan needed to hire professional management and that Rhonda would continue working in corporate America. They just were not cut out for the challenges of running a family business. What best suited this couple is the model of solo-entrepreneur with a supportive spouse.

Your role as the entrepreneur or the supportive spouse is much less complicated if you, as a couple, clearly define the type of entrepreneurship that suits your personalities best. If you are a hard driven, competitive type, probably you will do best as a solo-entrepreneur. If both of you are this type, try dual-entrepreneurship. If you are team players and enjoy sharing the spotlight with the one you love, copreneuring is for you. And if you are the quintessential woman/man-behind-the-scenes, and you don't really want to be too involved in the daily managing of your partner's venture, you are well suited to be the supportive spouse.

Successful couples in business share traits that keep love, business alive

Friday, September 12, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

One of the most challenging of lifestyles is working with your spouse in a thriving business. Most entrepreneurial couples love the opportunity to be independent, in charge of their own destinies, and to work along side the one they love and trust most.

What do successful entrepreneurial couples know about keeping a marriage and a business on track? It makes sense to find out what works for them. Out of these strategies, you may find a nugget that applies to you and your spouse.

100% - 100% Rule

Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet many entrepreneurial couples and there is a pattern among those who have long-term happy marriages interwoven with a prosperous business life. First and foremost they follow the 100% - 100% Rule. That is, each partner considers her or himself 100% responsible for the quality of her or his individual life as well as their joint ventures (i.e., parenting, household duties, managing a business).

While most couples follow a 50% - 50% Rule, meeting each other half way, by following the 100% - 100% Rule entrepreneurial couples meet each other all of the way.

They each put his or her whole self, talents, intuitions, and muscle into the relationship and business partnership, making each equally responsible for the outcome. Even though for efficiency's sake they may divide up duties along the lines of who is most capable or available, they still consider themselves as responsible as their partner for the success of the goal.

Encourage Competition

Without question entrepreneurs are achievers and highly competitive. Without these qualities they could not create a successful business venture. Sometimes it is not always easy to admit that you are in competition with your spouse, but once the truth comes out you are in a much better position to work with the inevitable.

Instead of being embarrassed by your competitive nature, or suppressing it or even denying it, admit it and acknowledge the problem to your spouse. Then do what successful entrepreneurial couples do . . . they encourage it!

Believe it or not, successful entrepreneurial couples actually encourage competition in their partners but they do put their relationship off limits. That is, their love for each other and commitment to their marriage and family life come before business needs.

If they are working full time together in their joint venture, there are rewards and incentives built into the business for each partner to achieve. Instead of paying only the founder of the business, the supportive spouse is also paid what they are worth and not a penny less.

Each partner is encouraged by the other to achieve their dreams, to express their strengths, to utilize their talents. If this means besting your partner in a career or business move, it shouldn't be threatening to your spouse, but viewed as a challenge to work toward his or her own excellence.

Worrying about ego or pride is a waste of precious energy that can better be used in pursuit of your dreams. Harness that competitive spirit and re-direct your achievement need toward the things you do best at the business or at home. That way not only do you succeed, but your spouse, family, business and community benefits too.

Make Love the Top Priority

With the pull of achievement needs and competitiveness in the business world, entrepreneurial couples have their work cut out for them to sustain balance in their personal lives. Making time for friendship, romance and family togetherness is difficult but imperative.

Again, successful entrepreneurial couples have figured out how to make love the top priority. They have abandoned the old methods that worked when they were younger and had free time. They realize that spontaneity or waiting for the "right moment" is not likely to happen today with their lives full of so many responsibilities.

Rather, they realize that they have to plan for love to happen and be sustained. And they build a structure they can count on to keep these priorities straight.

For example, they schedule once-a-week "dates" with each other. They make time in the morning or at the end of each day for uninterrupted discussions about everything that is necessary to keep the flow smooth. They go on frequent mini-vacations to pull themselves away from the demands of entrepreneurial life. They each volunteer their time to one community cause or child-related activity. All of these approaches help you remember why on earth you are working so hard anyway . . . to share your successes with the ones you love.

Renegotiate the Terms of the Partnership

By making love the top priority, entrepreneurial couples have a simple way to notice when they need to reorient their lives. If there is no time to give or receive love, from each other or the others in their lives, then it becomes time to renegotiate the terms of the partnership. If life isn't meaningful or fun for either of you, it is time to re-evaluate the marriage or the business partnership or both.

In order to keep a business healthy, a business owner must not only be aware of market trends, but they must also be prepared to alter their business plan accordingly. Within your personal life, it is no different. A marriage agreement that worked when you were twenty, may be outdated for a couple in their forties. Or aspects of the marriage contract may be archaic while others are still solid. Don't throw the baby out with the bath as the saying goes, but if some things need changing, do it now, or suffer the consequences of a loveless marriage.

I have met too many entrepreneurial couples where the only thing holding them together is the business. They have forgotten that the business is a function of their love for each other. By recognizing that the love is diminishing in your relationship and by being willing to renegotiate the terms of your marriage and partnership, you may be able to rekindle the romance and re-direct the business to new heights.

The Guidelines to Success

Although it is a lot work to maintain a healthy personal relationship among the busy-ness of entrepreneurial life, the methods of doing so are simple. Successful entrepreneurial couples already know these secrets. Now it's your turn to cash in on what they know.

Follow the 100% - 100% Rule and you will have a trusted full-time partner at your side.

Encourage achievement and competition in your partner and you will share the fruits of his or her success along with your own.

When you make love the top priority, you always have a marker to guide your decisions and direction in life.

Finally, when you get off course, stop and renegotiate the terms of the contract, so that you can nurture and sustain business and marriage growth.

Don't avoid conflict and confrontation when you work with your spouse

Friday, August 08, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"I just let him handle things his way."

"We're not very good at resolving problems, so I let it go."

"I just hate confrontation!"

Listening, talking, communicating, resolving problems, making joint decisions... these are requirements for all business owners, not just entrepreneurial couples. Yet entrepreneurial couples often complain that communicating effectively with each other is the last thing they do.

Without good communication skills and quality time dedicated to communicating, relationships (business and personal) soon flounder and fail, especially among couples with the stress of two careers, or a joint enterprise, and a full family life. Moreover, the potential for a breakdown in communication grows as the complexity of the family/business system increases.

As a member of an entrepreneurial couple you are under more stress and potential conflict than others. The worlds of your personal life and work life overlap considerably, creating more intersecting points. This creates a highly complex system of constantly changing roles and rules.

Because you cannot really separate home and work, you must learn how to integrate these two worlds better. The tools you used for communicating and resolving conflicts before you worked together may just not be good enough anymore. As an entrepreneurial couple you and your spouse face dilemmas that may have never surfaced before to give you worry. This means you need to enhance your communication and problem solving skills beyond simple linear cause and effect (i.e. blame).

A major reason entrepreneurial couples don't talk is that they are avoiding conflict and confrontation. There is a common misconception that conflict and confrontation are bad. One of the major reasons entrepreneurial couples have problems is their failure to confront issues head-on. They may fight openly or quietly seethe, but they have a terrible time confronting the real conflict respectfully and honestly.

It's as if confrontation and conflict are impolite. However, conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship. You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject.

Do not fear conflict and confrontation. Because of the highly complex and interactive, multi-level system you have created as an entrepreneurial couple and family, conflicts are inevitable and actually a sign of growth. Therefore, avoiding conflict is not the goal. Rather you want to develop the tools to "lean into" conflicts and resolve them early on, so that you can reorganize your lives to include the new learning. Because entrepreneurial couples have a lot at stake when it comes to their business and their relationship, they are prone to avoid conflict or to use ineffective tools to solve the conflict too quickly. Compromising and acquiescing are two of these ineffective tools.

Most couples are shocked when I advise them to avoid compromises at all costs. After all, isn't compromise a requirement of partnership, both personal and business? The reality is that decisions that are arrived at through compromise usually lack creativity and seldom last. Sure, a compromise now and then may be necessary for the sake of expediency, but if a decision is important, a compromise may cause anger and resistance. Because compromises are usually a result of both people giving up something in order to get an agreement, the decision is a watered-down version of two stronger opinions. While it may be satisfactory to accept compromise decisions for things like choosing a restaurant for dinner, where neither of you gets your first choice but both must accept a third alternative, accepting a third, less-threatening alternative for your business may sabotage your competitive edge.

Compromise is the easy way out when you are trying to avoid conflict and confrontation. It appears that the compromise will smooth ruffled feathers and that both partners can go away happy. What really happens, however, is that each partner leaves feeling as though they have been had.

One person may resent having to compromise and will be looking for ammunition to prove that the decision was a bad one. Another person may feel he or she has done the honorable thing by not pushing his or her opinion on the other, only to feel unappreciated later when the compromise plan is dropped. If you stop and think about it, how long have your compromise decisions really lasted?

Acquiescing or forcing your opinion upon your partner are other ways of avoiding conflict. In seeking to avoid conflict, for example, a persuasive person may push his or her partner to acquiesce to a certain point of view, but this does not mean that the partner agrees. It may mean only that the partner actually does not want to fight and so appears to agree, when he or she has only given in.

Don't make the mistake of pushing to win at all costs or to acquiescing to the persuader, when you don't agree. In either case, if you are the persuader or the acquiescent partner, the conflict has not been resolved and, what's worse, may have been driven underground.

If you don't make time to talk, if you don't consider nurturing your personal relationship as important as nurturing your business, and if you avoid healthy conflict and confrontation, your partnership/relationship will disintegrate into two uninvolved business associates at the best, and into bitterness and divorce at the worst. So take the time now to evaluate your communication skills and your life/business plan. Invest in the time to develop a meaningful, loving relationship with your spouse that enhances your business relationship.

Is it time to renegotiate your marriage/business contract?

Thursday, January 02, 2003

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S., P.S.

Think for a moment about the tasks you perform in your role as husband or wife. Who does the laundry? Who cooks breakfast? Who chauffeurs the children to events? Who balances the checkbook? Who changes the oil in the car?

Now think again about the task assignments at work (for those of you who work with your spouse this is particularly meaningful). Who does the bookkeeping? Who greets the customer? Who hires new employees? Who negotiates the contracts? Where does the "Buck stop"?

Don't be limited by the few questions mentioned in the last two paragraphs. Make a list of your duties and those of your spouse and really evaluate the division of labor, both at home and work. Then ask yourself (and your spouse), just how did we arrive at this division of responsibilities anyway?

Most married couples never stop to think about consciously discussing duties, tasks, chores, and responsibilities. Things just follow a certain course and you are either happy with it or not.

Actually the research shows that in most family firms, job assignments both at home and at work follow traditional gender divisions of responsibility. That is, men do "men's work" and women do "women's work." At work the wives generally handle the bookkeeping and support work and at home they take care of cooking, cleaning and children. The husbands are the leaders and decision makers at work (and at home), while at home they handle small repairs.

In contrast, dual-career couples have a non-traditional division of responsibilities. Wives and husbands are generally responsible for leadership and decision-making at work. At home, these couples think of themselves as "social partners" who are equally responsible for household and childcare duties. This non-traditional style is called "egalitarian."

Regardless of the marital style, traditional or egalitarian, all couples, both copreneurs and dual-career couples, report satisfaction with their style. The traditional copreneurs do not desire an egalitarian style and the egalitarian dual-career couples do not desire a more traditional style. This concept is called "equity." It means that even if the division of responsibilities isn't equal (at home or work), nor based upon assignment to the most qualified, these couples feel that the assignment is fair.

But what about those copreneurs who desire an egalitarian style? Or those dual-career couples who desire a more traditional style? Or what if you and your spouse are a blend of the two, not really fitting into either camp? Then your job is much more difficult, but not impossible. It becomes necessary to sit down together and analyze your situation. First, answer the question, "what do you want?"

Your marriage contract is more than a marriage license. It is a group of assumptions that you make about marriage and your partner and yourself. The assumptions you first made at age 22 may not fit for you at 42. The assumptions that guided you through those first years were probably modified when the children came along. They were further modified as the children entered college or when you started your business. Yet, probably neither one of you thought to sit down and analyze what you wanted or what was best given the new set of circumstances.

So your first task is to answer the question, "what do you want now in your marriage and business partnership, considering your current situation?" Be flexible. Be willing to let go of old ways that worked once, but are no longer appropriate. Both partners in the marriage must feel that the division of responsibilities is equitable, but does the division also represent what is best for the business and each of you personally and professionally?

Another important task in this renegotiation of the marriage/business-partnership contract is to quell the inevitable fears that arise. I often hear people say, "I'm not going to change; you knew who I was when you married me; you better be happy with that!"

Unfortunately, if you give into these fears your marriage and the business are in for a rude awakening. Things do change and people move on. All of us change daily and it's doubtful that you are the same person you were twenty or thirty years ago, and neither is your spouse. When you hear your spouse complaining about change, or hear these words coming from yourself, realize that they are coming from a place of fear...fear of change and fear of the unknown. Change is inevitable and it will overtake you, or you can plan a little and guide the change process. It's your choice.

Successful marriages are neither traditional nor egalitarian, but are based upon a flexible marriage contract, one that changes with the needs and circumstances of the individuals involved. Just as a business must be aware of competition and marketplace factors, and change or lose, a marriage faces the same perils. While it is important to keep certain basic values in tact, there is much room for negotiation and change throughout the life of the marriage and the business.

Nancy and Steven had a traditional marriage during the first 30 years. Nancy helped put Steven through medical school, took care of the children, and even helped set up Steven's office. When the children were old enough she moved from part-time to full time in the clinic, managing the business. Steven meanwhile buried himself in his work and over the years developed a successful medical practice and the respect of his patients.

At the thirty-year mark, however, Nancy got restless. The kids were grown and grandchildren on the way. Steven didn't really need her in the office anymore, so she dropped back to part-time again, and went back to school. Four years later she was a lawyer. In order to help Nancy get going in her new profession, Steven peddled back on his practice by finding a responsible M.D. partner to take on some of his caseload.

Although it takes planning and recognition of keeping things equitable, it is possible to change marital and business styles when the need arises. Evaluate your situation now. Is it time to talk with your spouse and make some changes before they erupt into irreconcilable differences? Or if they are already erupting, take them on and make the most of the change for personal, marital and business growth.

Balancing act during holidays can take its toll

Thursday, December 05, 2002

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

"SHOWER - COFFEE - GO!" That's how one young husband and owner of a successful family firm starts his day. His wife of five years, however, has a much more complex morning routine.

After making her husband's coffee, she feeds the baby his bottle until he falls asleep again. Then she wakes the toddler, dresses him and gets his breakfast. After brushing the toddler's teeth, he goes off to play leaving Mom to shower and dress for work. Before the wife leaves the house she confers with the nanny about any last minute needs of the baby. Then she gathers up the toddler and leaves for work. After dropping the toddler off at day-care, she arrives at work by 9:00 am. Did she get breakfast?

By this time the factory is humming. The husband is deep into his work behind closed doors. The young wife takes the next hour to "check in" with the supervisors and foremen. She chats with the employees as she walks through the hall to her office. Once behind her desk, she works non-stop, as does her husband for the remainder of the day, which often lasts well into the evening. They rarely see each other throughout the workday except for a cursory "check-in" regarding mutual decisions. Lunch is an apple or a cup of yogurt at their desks.

The daily routine of this couple is typical of entrepreneurial couples. Not all entrepreneurial couples have young children, nor do they work in the same building. Some ride to work together. Some work out of their homes. But regardless of the physical differences the one thing these couples have in common is the hard work of balancing the two worlds of marital relationship and business partnership --- or LOVE AND WORK.

This balancing act can take its toll on a couple, the family and the business, especially at during the holiday season, with the added stress of preparing for the holiday. There are vacations to plan for, employee bonuses and Christmas parties, out of town guests, last minute "rush" orders to fill, school and community functions to attend, and so on. The research shows that generally the stress is felt most strongly by the wife, who must manage the additional holiday responsibilities along with the routine family responsibilities and her work responsibilities.

While the husband feels the pressure too, he can compensate by working longer hours at the business. Herein, lies the problems for many entrepreneurial couples. Although it is tiring to work longer hours, it is actually more tiring to have to juggle two jobs (home and work), two schedules and two different kinds of responsibilities, as any entrepreneurial wife is aware. Anyone who has worked rotating shifts knows what a toll it takes on one's health and social life.

The two worlds of Love and Work are very different really. Trying to bring them together in a family-owned business creates constant friction. The reason for this constant friction is that the purpose or the drive behind the business is competition and growth. Whereas, the purpose or drive behind a family organization is nurturing and protection of family members. The interaction of these two systems (family and business) necessitates accommodations to each system.

Add to this difficult balancing act the stresses of the holiday season and the likelihood of an "explosion" during the holidays is dramatically increased. Actually the explosion is just as likely to happen after Christmas with the post-holiday depression. Not only is business slower than before Christmas, but all of the illusions we harbor about warm family togetherness at the holidays may not have been fulfilled.

There are several things you can do to prevent the worst possible case scenario and to have a much more meaningful Family/Business holiday season. First, assess the division of responsibilities between husband and wife. Is it really necessary that the majority of the burden be carried by the wife to maintain the family? Perhaps she is better suited to the task, especially when there are young children, but it certainly takes its toll on the marriage to have the worlds of love and work so rigidly defined. With baby changing tables now being installed in the Men's room, it's not so hard for dads to assume more of these responsibilities.

Secondly, assess your expectations of the holiday season. Remember now that you both work. The typical entrepreneurial husband works 60 hours a week in the business. The typical entrepreneurial wife works 49 hours a week in the business; then she goes home and puts in another 49! Don't expect that you can attend every function or have a perfectly decorated home. Some people even eat Christmas dinner at a restaurant. In other words, look at your work and home responsibilities and decide what you can and can't reasonably be expected to accomplish.

Thirdly, along the lines of expectations, dig down deep and look at your feelings about the holidays. Many people don't have extended kin to visit at Christmas. Many people even have unpleasant memories about previous holidays.

Many people are experiencing current problems in their lives that won't go away with Christmas or New Years. Don't stick your head in the sand and pretend that wishing will make this holiday a warm, wonderful Norman Rockwell affair. Notice your feelings --- sadness, anger, grief --- and if they are intense talk to a psychologist. Dealing with your feelings now will enable you to ease through the season and prevent the explosions that come from built up stress due to unrealized expectations.

Finally use those entrepreneurial traits that set you apart from other people, such as individualism, creativity, determination, willingness to work hard. With your spouse negotiate the kind of unique relationship that works best for you. Don't rely on stereotypes to define your roles at work and home. You can set up anything you want; you're the boss.

Also Norman Rockwell Christmases are not the only kind to have. Start some new traditions that fit your lifestyle. For example, spend a quiet Christmas Eve at home. Or if you have no extended kin to visit, invite friends over. Instead of a garish display of presents under the tree for the children, take gifts to the local children's hospital. Cater dinner. Have pizza. Someday your grandchildren will think that Christmas has always been a pizza party followed by a trip to the children's hospital to sing carols.

Women business owners are not always taken seriously

Thursday, January 31, 2002

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Women in business, one of the fastest growing segments of the self-employed, and yet we know very little about them. Half of America's workers are women. More and more women are entering the workplace and more and more women are entering at the business and professional level than ever before.

Women are not always taken seriously when it comes to running a business. I don't think that people are discriminating because of gender necessarily. It's probably more because they don't know how to relate to women business owners. Women have different values and these values are showing up in how women design their businesses.

Women business owners are more likely than men to accommodate their work schedules around family needs. Since they are in tune with the challenges involved with juggling work and family they are often willing to provide on site day care and flexi-time for their employees. A lot of women business owners working from their homes as telecommuters especially now that we have tools like the Internet.

My daughters have watched their mother develop her business from home. When they were babies, they slept in the bassinet next to my desk. Occasionally I would even take one of them to business meetings, rocking her in her baby carrier, as I took notes.

When my daughter Bianca was about 5, I heard her call out to me as she passed me in the kitchen, "Bye, Bye Mommy; I'm going to a meeting." She was dressed in an apron and high heels (my castoffs), pushing her doll carriage with one hand and carrying a briefcase in the other. (Actually the briefcase was a blue plastic crayola marker case but she has quite an imagination.)

This blending of family and work roles is commonly seen in couple-owned and family-owned enterprises. Yet women who attempt to blend both roles must fight invisibility. For example, I lost a contract to provide certain psychological services because my office is at home. I was told that home offices are not professional enough. However, I always thought I was clever to find a way to be with my family and still develop my career interests. Obviously this is not a value shared by the contractor.

Sometimes women reinforce this invisibility themselves. In an effort to maintain her role as wife and her role as business owner a woman may feel she has to take a "backseat" to her husband. For example, I asked a co-entrepreneurial couple to tell me their official business titles. Although the wife had started the business five years before her husband joined her, she told me she was a "sales associate," while her husband said he was "vice president."

Other copreneurial wives tell me that they share ownership of the business equally with their husbands, yet they rarely list their title as "owner" or "president." Usually they are listed as "secretary" or "treasurer." Their husbands on the other hand, frequently list themselves as "co-owner." So it appears that the need to hold back is coming from the wives, not the husbands.

I often get a call from a copreneurial wife asking for help with her marriage. She and her husband are struggling with balancing their personal relationship and their business partnership. Whether or not the wife was the business founder, she is usually the one with the most trouble accepting the power struggle with her husband. Men seem more comfortable with power negotiations and are at a loss as to why their wives are distressed.

Simply the wife has to learn to be assertive with her husband. She must draw boundaries around her turf. This is something that men do all of the time, but women may feel that they are being too "bossy." Women need to realize that most of the time their husbands are not offended by clear, assertive, decisive actions. In fact the chief complaint I hear from copreneurial husbands is that their wives don't speak up! So he doesn't know what she wants, nor how to help her get it.

If women business owners are to be more visible, they need to be bold and speak up. They need to educate lenders and others about the values of blending family and work life. They need to teach their daughters how to be true to her feminine spirit and yet develop her creative side through career, professional and business.

To bust the myth of invisible working women, business owners and others, girls need to see women at work. They need to be educated about how to successfully balance the demands of family life and work life. Women business owners are in a wonderful position to do just that.

Entrepreneurial couples can transform criticism into feedback

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

When couples work together they have the opportunity to work with a partner they love and trust most. They also have the opportunity to see the best and worst of their partner . . . day in and day out. Even with the most enlightened people, this constant togetherness can cause conflict. It's wonderful to have closeness, rapport, and regular praise from your sweetheart. It just doesn't feel as wonderful to have your partner know you so well that they give you regular criticism as well.

Frequently the criticism starts out as a desire to help or to improve your partner, but disintegrates into an argument and hard feelings. The object of the criticism gets defensive and complains that the spouse must not love the person he or she married. And the person delivering the "help" feels rejected and misunderstood. Many couples opt for keeping quiet about these things so as not to start a fight. Others duke it out until someone "wins" which of course means that they got way off the subject. But neither of these approaches really takes care of the problem.

If you think about it your spouse may be one of the best people to help you improve. They probably know you better than anyone else and they probably love you more. If you are working together then they also get to see you in more than one role, so again they are in a unique position to help you grow. And that is what criticism is. It is a critical analysis of your behaviors and an offering of advice on how to change, grow and improve yourself.

If you view criticism from this new perspective it may not be so hard to swallow. For example, psychologists know that a person's IQ continues to grow throughout the lifespan well into old age, if the person is actively engaging in life and learning new things. Our natural instinct is to keep growing but we can't do that if we don't reevaluate from time to and time.

We need to check out old habits, rewrite some scripts, take a few risks, and try anything new to break out of a rut. If we don't attend to this we lose out personally. This is equally true for your business. If you intend on keeping your business healthy, you have to meet the needs of a changing marketplace.

The major problem with criticism is that it's harder to swallow when it comes from someone other than you. And it is even harder to swallow when it comes from someone we care a lot about. It hurts twice as much when the one who we love most thinks we need improving. On the other hand when we decide for ourselves that we need to change something, we give ourselves credit for being very smart to come up with such a good idea. This really seems like a silly game to play. Why not use the collective intelligence of those around you? Criticism from another doesn't make you bad or undesirable. It is just feedback for your enlightenment.

A word to the criticizer is in order here too. Just because you mean well and love your partner, doesn't mean he or she will recognize your good intention, especially if your criticism cuts to the heart of one of their most cherished beliefs. So go easy with the criticism.

The best method for delivering a critical comment is to wait for an opportune moment. For example if your partner is feeling particularly bluesy that day, or just lost an important contract, this is not an opportune moment to size up their inadequacies. However, if they are musing about how they might improve a certain situation you can offer your opinion. Be prepared to remind them that you value many things about them as well. You should always offer praise with a criticism so that your partner hears that you care about them even if you think they should change.

There are times, however, when you are criticizing your partner about something that just doesn't matter or is more a statement about your inability to be flexible than it is about their need to change. Take a good look at your criticisms and ask yourself if they are really necessary. Your partner may be doing the very best he or she can. Most likely your partner is 90% of what you would like in a spouse/business partner, but not everything. That would be hard to come by. Why aren't you satisfied with 90%? It might just be that there is a change you need to make, not your spouse.

Is it really a good idea to work with your spouse?

Friday, September 07, 2001

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Most of the time I am extolling the virtues of entrepreneurial couples, or at the very least, discussing how to successfully solve problems that come up for families in business. The lifestyle can be extremely rewarding when you work with the ones you love. As I have said often, "Who better to trust with your business than your spouse?" However, there is another side that should be looked at if you are considering the entrepreneurial couple life. That is, just what are you missing in your marriage and your work life by working with your spouse?

One of the major complaints I hear from practically all entrepreneurial couples is that they no longer have enough quality time together for romance and friendship. Oddly enough, working together for many couples turns out to be the only thing they do together. It is very easy to slip into work, work, work with your spouse at your side. You may not make a break for lunch to meet your spouse, because she's sitting right next to you. You may not pick up the phone to call him at the office, when you can just toss a note on his desk. When you get home, you may have talked about work all the way home in the car and continue the discussion through dinner . . . if you even have dinner.

So one of the really great reasons not to work together is to keep your worlds separate so that you get to come home to each other every night. When you have to leave work each day in order to reconnect with your family, you will actually make more of an effort to do so. When your family members are working by your side in a family business, you may make the mistaken assumption that you don't need to reconnect. But without that important psychological reconnecting, love starts to fade and fun with each other becomes a memory.

Another stressor for entrepreneurial couples is competition between them. This goes for other family members too. We have a strong need for recognition and approval from our spouses. We also have a strong need to feel like powerful, accomplished adults. Competing in the workplace with non-relatives can be like playing a game of tennis with a worthy opponent. Even if you lose to the competition, you can still feel OK about yourself because you did your best and your spouse can support you. But how do you feel about competing with your spouse? Who's the boss? Who defers to whom? Can you gloat about an accomplishment when you just bested your spouse?

When couples work separately either as solo entrepreneurs or as executives in separate organizations, they have the opportunity to be as competitive and goal oriented as they wish, with all of the support at home they need. They can be leaders in their respective fields with no fear of hurting the pride of their spouses. A side benefit of separate work environments is that with competition removed, each partner may actually be in a better position to hear feedback from their love partner.

Separate work environments create other advantages as well. Many members of family enterprises complain that their world is small. In other words they don't get out much, especially the women. When you work with family members, the only feedback you get is from family and this can be limiting. Working separately enables each partner to learn about the outside world more. They get feedback from colleagues other than family members and the feedback may be more honest. The research confirms that family firms grow more slowly than non-family owned firms for this reason alone . . . lack of creative feedback.

As important as it is to reconnect with your loved ones at least once a day, it is also important to have time to yourself. Seldom do I hear entrepreneurial couples complain that they have too much time with their spouses, but they do complain that they have no time to themselves. This is probably related to the overwork that results from running your own business. And it is probably related to the fact that they don't have a spouse calling them to come home or arranging a special evening out. Working separately means that your worlds have better defined boundaries. This doesn't mean that you will schedule much needed time at the gym, or call a friend for an outing, or steel some work time to play a round of golf, but defined boundaries do make us more organized. With organization comes a sense of importance about sticking to priorities. Taking care of your personal health and mental health should be a top priority for all of us.

There are many other benefits to working separately from your spouse, just as there are benefits to being an entrepreneurial couple. What is important in making life and career choices is to examine the whole picture. Choosing wisely means evaluating the downside with the upside. If you love your spouse and think you will be great business partners, you may be well suited to the entrepreneurial lifestyle. On the other hand, you might want to examine what you will be losing before you take the plunge. You may be brave enough to take some financial risk in order to achieve a career dream, but what level of risk are you willing to take with your marriage?

Good communication and trust strengthen family and business

Friday, July 13, 2001

By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.

Many business owners are puzzled when their attorney or CPA suggests that they should meet with me before proceeding with signing a contract or structuring a reorganization or resolving a partnership disagreement. What's a psychologist have to do with business anyway? " I don't need a shrink," they say.

Yes, I get plenty of puzzled looks when I explain that I am a Psychologist and a Family/Business Consultant. But this makes a lot of sense when you take a look at a few basic facts. For example, half of American businesses are family owned and operated (and even more in the Northwest). Secondly, many of these businesses are run and staffed by family members who are not necessarily formally trained or educated for their specific job. They work for the business because they are trusted family members dedicated to the success of the family enterprise. Third, many of these businesses have been around two or three or four generations, which means that the children are growing up identifying themselves with the family business. What this means for many family firms is that the business is as much a part of the family and each family member as the family and each family member is a part of the business.

Recognizing that family/businesses are really families with a business identity, as a psychologist I am able to get beneath the surface of some business problems to identify the emotional snags that are hanging up a business decision. There is nothing more frustrating nor expensive than taking weeks and months to develop a new business strategy, only to have it sit there going nowhere because there is a family dispute. When Mom and Dad don't agree, or when Granpa doesn't approve of his successor, or when Daughter-in-law is at odds with Mother-in-law, or Son has a drug addiction problem, do you really think these things have no affect on the business? Yes many businesses continue to thrive for a while with serious problems like an alcoholic CEO, but what is the legacy for the next generation?

I believe it is very important to families in business to have the benefit of a psychologist's expertise when developing goals and resolving problems in their family enterprise. For example, I recently learned of an interesting study conducted in Oregon with troubled teens. The program results provide a valuable lesson for families in business too.

The program determined what mode of intervention works best in turning teens away from early school dropout and delinquency. The researchers compared several treatment groups. One group of teens attended a teen support group facilitated by a counselor. Another group of teens attended a teen support group, and also attended family therapy with their parents. Another group attended only family therapy. And a fourth group of teens only benefited by their parents attending a parent training class.

Over a five-year period, which group do you think made the most progress toward reducing delinquency and high school dropout among troubled teens? Interestingly the groups that were most successful were the parent training only and the family therapy group without a teen support group. When teens are allowed to socialize with other troubled teens, they just teach each other bad lessons. But when parents learn how to successfully parent and when teens work with their parents to resolve their problems, the whole family benefits.

There are two lessons here for families in business. First, whenever you are planning a new goal or you are stuck accomplishing a goal, the whole family needs to be involved in the solution. Secondly, the solution to any problem in any family, whether it be a business family or not, depends upon the parents or leadership. When the parents or leadership are strong and well educated about what works in a healthy family system, problems get addressed and solved sooner.

The teens in the above study were not elevated to the position of leadership in their families because they were part of solution discussions. But they were included in the discussions and learned problem-solving skills with their parents. A similar system works beautifully in successful family firms. Such firms have regular family business retreats where discussions ensue among stockholders and stakeholders alike. Open communication is an important key. But even more important is that open communication makes all family members feel like important contributors to the welfare of the family enterprise.

Many family firms want to have open communication. They want to resolve longstanding family/business disputes. They don't like walking on eggshells around certain family members or avoiding sensitive subjects. So why don't they get on with it? Why do their attorneys, CPAs and other business advisors have files filled with incomplete projects? Because in spite of good intentions, many of these family firms do not have the skills to address and resolve these problems. They need support and guidance by a psychologist who is trained in resolving problems within a family business system. They need education to learn these skills.

Not everyone is a natural born communicator. Not everyone knows how to "diagnose" family system problems. Not everyone has the courage to confront their family or a family member when love and dollars are at stake. It is no shame to be uneducated about these things. However it is a shame to let your embarrassment over your lack of education get in the way of seeking professional help. Remember a family business is first and foremost a family. Just as in the study of the troubled teens, if you strengthen the family, the individuals and the business will thrive.