Family Business Wiki's Town Square

Family Business Wiki's TOWN SQUARE

Do you think that it is beneficial to work with your husband or wife? I recently interviewed a car wash and the husband-wife duo worked in the same office, and seemed to enjoy it. My parents also work in the same office, and I believe it could be causing some tense situations. Since I would like to own my own business in the long-term, would you advise against or for working with your wife/husband?


I think there could be a lot of financial pluses to this. It keeps money in the family, since it is likely that the co-owner adds a great deal of value, which would have to employ a highly paid manager/employee to do this work. However, do you think involving business into a marriage can cause more harm than good, even if the company is doing well? My opinion is that business and marriage should not be mixed, but I would love to hear from someone if they feel that business has actually strengthened their relationship.

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I tend to agree with you that it is best to keep family and business seperate. I know personally, that is what has always seemed the 'cleanest' to me, however I think this is a really individual topic. When I was a child my parents both worked together (though on separate parts, mom wreaths and dad trees) in the retail sales operations on my family's christmas tree farm. This involved very long days, and eventually they both decided to stop doing retail sales. Now, even though my mother does not work on the farm they both still own it. Interestingly, I know a couple who have owned a lumber milling operation for several decades. They recently got divorced, but continue to run the company together and both say things are better than ever. I think the most important part is that couple's really consider their situation and the priorities. I would imagine that in many couples minds the relationship is more important than the business, and it is important to be honest with yourself and ask, is this business likely to hurt my marriage? and if so, is it worth it? From there its up to the couple to decide for themselves what is best for them and best for the business.

Whether it's your spouse, or your children you have to ask the question "Is this person the most qualified individual for the possition?" The business I interviewed for my case study, Al's Snowmoblie Parts Warehouse, at one point had the first generation husband and wife working for the business, both owner's children and both of the children's spouses working for the business. Things seemed to work for them.

My Grandfather worked in my family's real estate business with his second wife. They eventually got divorced and she ended up getting control of that part of the business, which she wouldn't have if he never let her work there.

It's a better to have your spouse seperate from the business by default. If you do hire your spouse, as hard as it may be, treat them like every other employee. Put formal checks and balances on them. The more you trust a person the more damage they can really do. 

My mom and step dad have been working every day together in the same office for about 7 years now.  For the most part, they enjoy it.  There are times when a dispute at work carries over to when they are home, and this usually happens when one of them buys a lot of merchandise from one company which turns out to be a flop.  Although they share the same office, my step dad is usually on the main floor of the store dealing with customers while my mom is upstairs working on overhead and purchasing.  So I think the key to successfully working with your spouse would be to have the same goals and vision for the company, and making sure that both the husband and the wife operate different aspects of the business.  The only part of business that both my mom and step-dad do together are purchasing merchandise, but my mom focuses on clothing and my step-dad focuses on purchasing toys, souvenirs, and footwear.

One of my best friends parents own and run a business together.  They are very close and I have never (personally) seen the business get inbetween them or cause any major issues.  I think if anything it gives them more time to be together and if you are in a happy relationship that is a good thing, and they are very happy people.

I think that you will just have to remember to keep the business separate from the family.  So if the business happens to not be doing well or you have a really stressfull day at work, you dont bring that home with you.  I think that working with your spouse could add stability to your relationship, but if the business fails you are in trouble! It could also be a bonding experience becoming entrepreneurs again together though! I mean it all depends on your attitudes really and how you work together.

My dad owns his business with a partner and neither or their wives work in the business but I know they both play a big role in supporting their husband when it comes to making business decisions. As I wrote in my last post, my dad and his partner have a lot of tension between them and it at times has threatened the company remaining in their ownership. My mom is the first person that my dad consults when it comes to the more emotional side of the business and the relationships that come with it. She also does the majority of our family finances so she is involved in that sense as well so she hears/see a lot about the inner workings of the business from employee issues to day to day operations. I believe that if my mom was not a big support resource for my dad he would have already sold his half of the company. She is able to rationalize the emotions he has from issues at work and really show the other side of the story to my dad so he is able to make better decisions for him, the business and our family. Having your spouse as a involved consultant and support resource is the most important thing and it really depends on the type of person your spouse is if your thinking about involving them in the business in terms of it being successful or not.

I think having a business with your wife/husband would be all well and good but I think as with most family business I see it is very important to keep business as business an not get too emotionally involved. I mean this not only in that keeping petty squabbles from affecting your business but more to the extent on making those tough decisions. I sometimes look at as that movie 21 I'm sure you probably all have seen it but I feel a family business should be managed the same way play the odds, look at the demand, run the numbers and never let emotions get in the way. If you do you might just keep sinking more and more money into an already failing business and be too emotionally involved to realize the ships still going to sink no matter how many holes you try to patch. It's important to be able to take a step back and look at the business for what it is an what it can actually do, rather than what you HOPE it can do.

Success will inevitably depend on the people involved, how they choose to separate the issues of work and family, and how well they truly "like" each other. Remember, differences can work to your advantage if they are identified and accepted. I do believe however that the couple must learn to take time away from work and remember why they are a couple in the first place. 

Nice topic!  In my work with family businesses, I make a distinction with Husband/Wife Teams.  They are the one case in family enterprise where the stakeholders actually have a choice - they can choose not to be family anymore through divorce.  This is an important distinction since it implies that certain tools which we use to identify and strengthen the family bond may not be applicable.  Conventional conflict management tools like Mediation and Litigation may be more effective than the type of development work we try to do with family members (parents/kids, siblings, cousins).  

That being said, working and/or owning together is bound to add complexity to a relationship.  Marriage is hard enough without such complexity.  In some cases working together leads to disaster in a marriage.  By the same token, however, excluding a spouse from working at the family business can lead to similar disaster.  Here's a case we had - 

Dad started a business and mom was the office manager.   During the first 5 years of the enterprise, it was all-hands-on-deck.  It was an exciting time which brought Mom and Dad very close together and aligned.  In the years that followed, child raising became more urgent and the business could afford professional help.  Mom left the business - the business that she helped to start.  Dad went on to become the 'Boss' of a $20M/yr, international business.  He travelled the world, met interesting people and started to identify with a new peer group.  In short - he left mom behind.  Mom lived in a world of car-pooling, grocery shopping and school meetings.  The divorce which would follow years later crippled the company and split the family.  

Working together?  Not working together?  Who's to say which is better for a relationship?  Being aware of the risks and developing skills to manage these risks offer the best chance for either strategy to succeed.  Having an outside, independent advisor who is skilled in both family and business issues can be very effective in helping families evolve together with their business and with their growing wealth.  (a shameless pitch for consultancy, but a sincere one, nonetheless).  



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