By Leslie Johnson
Michael Schiff boils down the pitfalls of working with a spouse to a basic foundation for all solid relationships: good communication.
“I think that is part of the success. We know our roles and we trust each other in doing those roles,” said Schiff, lead buyer’s consultant with Schiff Realty Partners, who has been with Keller Williams Realty First Atlanta since 2004.
He works with his wife, Leigh, who is lead listing consultant. “Just with any successful organization, there has to be communication,” he said.
The Schiffs, who worked out of the Keller Williams Realty office on Glenridge Parkway, are among many couples in Atlanta and throughout the U.S. who balance home and business partnerships.
While it’s not always an easy feat – keeping distinct personal and professional lives is often a challenge – they work hard to keep both partnerships in tip-top shape.
Husband and wife business partners have been a strong sector of family businesses, which, according to experts at Harvard Business School, make up two-thirds of all the world’s businesses:
A 2011 Wall Street Journal article states that approximately one-third of family businesses are husband and wife teams;
A Family Business USA article cites data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners in 2007, the most recent year available, which found that there were 1.4 million firms jointly owned and equally operated by a husband and wife;
Husband and wife business partners have been on the rise for several years. According to information cited in a 2008 CNN-Money article from the American Family Business Survey, conducted by the MassMutual Financial Group and the Raymond Institute husband-and-wife CEOs of family businesses went up 14 percent in 2002 from 8 percent in 1997.
Secrets to Success
The importance of communication is the No. 1 theme echoed by other entrepreneurial couples in the Perimeter area. But there are other pillars that are central to both a happy home and business life.
“The answer is very simple, but very important, and is our foundation. It is the same as making a successful marriage work,” said Laura Castillo, CEO and principal of iSolv Technology Solutions LLC.
She serves as a consultant for Castle Painting. Her husband Miguel is owner and president of Castle Painting LLC. The Castillos also are partners in a commercial investments company, Castillo Properties LLC .
Trust and respect are paramount, Laura Castillo said.
“We trust and respect in each other’s decisions and abilities and that we both have the same best interests at heart,” she said. “No. 2 is communication. Being very open with communication is critical in any successful business. No. 3 is that we both are very entrepreneurial at our core.
“We are both very passionate about our work, and we love our people and our customers. A very important point in a situation like ours is to recognize and respect each other’s roles. Miguel is the leader and he is the face of Castle. I support him in my role to set him up for success – not to compete with him. We have seen many situations where the husband and wife cross these lines, and it can be extremely destructive to the business and to the marriage.”
Jay and Randi Medley of Newks Eatery in Brookhaven work together, but take on separate duties. That helps their relationship work.
“Randi works closely with our catering clientele, making sure they are well taken care of. I work more inside the restaurant in operations and administration,” Jay Medley shared via email.
“Randi’s personality is very outgoing and genuine, so she fits right in to the ‘sales’ side of our business. My personality, I think, leads me more toward the operations in that I really enjoy working and ‘reacting’ with our employees to the many curveballs that are thrown at you in the typical day of a restaurant.”
Know each other’s skills
To make the business partnership work, Schiff said the couple must recognize each other’s strengths, interests and work styles, just as you would any other co-worker. Personality assessments are a good way to find out about a person’s work style.
“Read each other’s reports, so they know their strengths,” Schiff said. “You know how they work at home, you don’t know how they work at work. They may be outgoing with their friends, but not with making sales calls on people they don’t know.”
Kent Gipson of The Gipson Team, who works with his wife Caroline, said complementary abilities help make the work engine run smoother.
“I think the major factors in our successful partnership are our different skill-sets, along with similar personal and business philosophies,” Gipson said via email.
He first joined Keller Williams Realty in the Southeast in 1999. Caroline Gipson became part of The Gipson Team in 2005.
Gipson described himself as “more of a right brain thinker” than his wife. “This means I tend to be more creative, and she is a ‘typical’ engineer in some ways, she can be very methodical and process-oriented. Fortunately, we both have the ability to see both sides, especially Caroline. She’s truly the whole package and great with people too. “
The Castillos share some traits, Laura Castillo said, but where they differ only helps their professional endeavors.
“Miguel is very extraverted and loves to be out in the field and to meet new people,” Laura Castillo said. “He is very endearing and likeable, so he connects well with his customers.
“He has a very unique eye for color, which is extremely helpful helping his customers with color choices. He runs all sales and the crews on the projects. I am the numbers and technology geek. I focus on the business plan, the operational efficiency in the office and the marketing strategy. This is my background and what I love to do (and what I provide to my other clients).”
Separate business life from home life
Couples say keeping work life separate from home life, when possible, is important to the longevity and strength of both partnerships.
The Schiffs, who have two small children, set aside “date night,” once a week, “where work is off limits,” Michael Schiff said. The Gipsons don’t discuss work after 8 p.m.
The Gipsons also have a deal that they can “call for a personal break and re-schedule any conversation at another time,” Gipson said. “This is easier said than done, yet we are going on 10 years as business partners and our marriage and business gain strength every year.”
Laura Castillo said maintaining two separate relationships is key.
“While at work, we focus on business decisions as business partners. We don’t bring our personal situations to the office nor do we discuss personal matters in front of our team,” she said.
“When we leave work, we leave work. We make it a point to greet each other at the end of the day as other couples do that don’t work together – with a kiss and, ‘How was your day?’
“Miguel is in constant communication with his crew leaders and customers, so he does take many calls in the evening and on the weekends, however we try to avoid turning this into our focal point for our conversation,” she said.
“Like many professionals in high demand positions, it’s important that he has my support to allow him to take care of business, and likewise, he supports my business needs. It’s a major advantage that we both truly understand each other’s situations and demands,” she said.
Couples learn how to make the most of family life, even when business can’t be completely tucked away.
“The restaurant sometimes bleeds into family life, and it’s just become an accepted part of our lives,” Medley said. “It’s not too bad though. We are able to do all the important things to maintain a healthy home life.”
Advice for future husband-wife business partners
Spouses who work together suggest that others considering the same arrangement do their homework first, establish certain ground rules and always remain respectful.
“The advice we would give is to go into it with your eyes wide open,” Laura Castillo said. “Make sure you have a solid business plan and you are in complete agreement on the business strategy and on each other’s roles.
“You should also have an agreement that you won’t bring your personal matters to the office, and, likewise, you won’t allow the business to take over your life at home. Lastly, you must treat your business relationship with the same levels of trust and respect as you do in your marriage.”
Gipson’s tips for success for spouses in the workplace: Set limits.
“Establish some business and personal boundaries, stay in your own lane and refrain from criticizing,” he said. “When the inevitable disagreement comes up, we have recently agreed to ‘stay in the ring’ (unless it’s after 8 p.m.) until we both feel we’re heard by the other or we’ve reached a mutual understanding. I’ve figured out I can be right or happily married, usually not both.”
Medley, of Newks, also suggests having an honest conversation about each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“You probably already have an idea of what they are, but sit down and write down what you think your partner would be good at and why,” he said. “Then get together, share notes, laugh and cry a little, and try to come to some agreements.
“Know, however, that you never know exactly what you’re getting into until you get into it, so there needs to be an understanding that roles may need to change to adapt to new challenges. That’s an important piece that both people need to understand, acknowledge and be willing to do.”