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A Valentine for Couples Together in Business

Feb. 12, 2024
People often ask, ‘What is it like working with your husband?’ It is great if we swim in the same direction in our own lanes.

February has me thinking about the importance of couples. Not just those who are in love but partners in a business.

I find myself fascinated with couples in business. Admittedly, the ones I am most drawn to are the married-couple teams, as I, too, am a part of that crowd. However, there are many other types of “couples” … siblings, best friends or co-founders, to name a few.

My husband, Drew, and I did not start out our careers in business together. He was already working in the family business when a need within the business presented itself, and my skill set was a match.

We found pretty quickly that we were a good match not only as husband and wife but as business partners. Why? Because we have unique strengths and perspectives that allowed us to grow the business together.

People often ask, “What is it like working with your husband?” It is great if we swim in the same direction in our own lanes. Drew’s thrives in business development and technical sales. I am best when I am solving a financial, operational or human-resource challenge. We are both innovative thinkers and problem-solvers within our own disciplines.

When Drew and I decided to sell our family manufacturing business to the employees, we were adamant that there would not be just one leader but a pair of leaders with complementary skill sets. But, more importantly, we wanted the two new leaders to have a common vision for where they want to grow the company in the future.

Today, I continue to work with businesses in many industries. Many of them are business “couples.” Yet a few leaders are flying solo, shouldering all the burden themselves.

Maybe you find yourself in the “few” group. I hope to convince you to seek a counterpart. I can absolutely guarantee that I would not have been as successful leading our family business if Drew were not by my side challenging, inspiring and supporting me each step of the way.

Solopreneurs Need a Support Group

One of my University of Tennessee executive peer group members frequently tells says, “Ashleigh, you run a great therapy group.” What he is describing is bringing a group of manufacturing executives together in a small group to discuss their challenges, opportunities and difficult decisions. The peers find that they are not on an island together. Most have experienced a similar situation in the past and are able to share how they worked through the issue, providing confidence for a path forward.

If you are a solopreneur, find a peer group where you can confidentially share what is keeping you up at night. You will feel like a load has been lifted from your shoulders.

The Case for a Partner or Co-Executive

Maybe you have identified that your business has outgrown your ability to handle everything by yourself. Now, you are looking for a partner or co-executive to take the journey with you. What is important to look for in your counterpart?

Ensure that your partner has just as much enthusiasm for your business as you do. A partner should be someone who encourages you, will bounce ideas back and forth, and who will lean in and help do the heavy-lifting. But, most importantly, a partner must have core values that are aligned with yours.

Your Spouse as Your Business Partner

Choosing your spouse as your business partner can be very rewarding. However, you should be mindful of a few things.

  1. It is almost impossible to separate your personal life from your business. You must be able to integrate the two, while at the same time trying to set boundaries. You and your partner must define what this looks like for you … each couple has varying needs.
  2. Make sure your roles are clearly delineated at work and home. Sometimes, you must take things case-by-case. Such as, there were many days that we would have a sick child and one of us would have to cancel meetings to be at home. In other instances, Drew did most of the cooking and I was in charge of the dishes.
  3. Before you jump into an equity partnership, work with an attorney to set up a shareholder agreement. This ensures you have a contract that protects your company equity in the event the partnership dissolves for any reason.

Now, I want to hear from you. What couples in business inspire you?

Ashleigh Walters was president of Onex Inc. through 2022 and is the author of  Leading with Grit and Grace.

About the Author

Ashleigh Walters | Leadership Coach

Ashleigh Walters is a business executive with a proven track record of leading transformational change turning around a 55-year-old industrial furnace manufacturing and service company. Part of the key to Ashleigh's success is her coach-approach leadership style, which is very different than the traditional command-and-control leadership you typically see in manufacturing.

You can read all about how she made things better in her book, Leading with Grit and Grace.

Today, Ashleigh guides leaders to implement changes necessary in their organizations through keynote speaking, executive coaching, peer groups and company boards. 

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