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Men who work for their wives

What would it be like to work for your wife? Awkward? Fun? You would be surprised how many men have gone to work at a business their wives run.

I wrote a column about it in 2006 and love this quote from Nan Langowitz, who was director of the Center for Women's Leadership at Babson College:"There is no reason not to take advantage of good skill sets in the form of a husband."

Yesterday, in honor of Valentine's Day, the Wall Street Journal published a piece on husbands and wives that work together --- for better or worse. The article says that while some sweethearts can handle the dual pressure of building a relationship and a company, many others warn it's a difficult path. In one of the examples, the business/marriage combo turned out disastrously.

Coincidentally, I happened to be on the phone yesterday with Tom Shea CEO and Managing Principal, Right Management Florida/Caribbean Region. He works with his wife, Maureen.I asked Tom what he thinks it takes to work together, live together and stay balanced and sane. 

What works for us? Defining our roles in the company, maintaining separate areas of responsibility, and clearly communicating those roles to our associates, he said. For example, his wife, CFO of Right Management Florida/Caribbean, handles all internal office issues. Tom handles all matters on the client side and attends community events. The both love their jobs.

Tom says there are times when he or his wife don't want to talk business at home or discuss personal stuff at work. "One of us will say,  'I don’t want to go there now,' and the other person will respect that."

In the Sheas' case, the couple work together. Here is the column I wrote in Nov. 2006 that featured husband that worked for their wives:

  Juan Ortiz wasn't really thrilled about customers knocking on his door at all hours looking for his wife or phone calls that interrupted his dinner. In fact, he outright discouraged his wife from working for Avon, even though the couple desperately needed money.

But with Cecilia's determination, a six-figure income started streaming in as she built a base of more than 800 representatives beneath her. Three years ago, Juan quit his job in construction and joined his wife.
"It's been a little hard for him that I'm the boss, but he realizes the money has changed our lives, " Cecilia says.
More women appear to be hiring their spouses as employees. Some 33 percent of U.S. businesses are owned by women, a number that increased 14 percent in the last five years, according to the Center for Women's Business Research. More women are taking over family businesses or building independent sales networks, too.
For some of these women, the obvious solution to staffing issues is at home: their husbands. With businesses now that support it, "There is no reason not to take advantage of good skill sets in the form of a husband, " says Nan Langowitz, director of the Center for Women's Leadership at Babson College.
Handbag designer Kate Spade has done it. So has Airborne creator Victoria Knight-McDowell and Baby Einstein Co. founder Julie Aigner-Clark.
Sharing both a bed and a workplace with someone is never easy. Couples say the key to harmony is role definition. Unlike the behind-the-scenes jobs that women traditionally have held in their husband's businesses, men who join their wives' firms typically carve out managerial positions with clout and separate areas of responsibility.
Cecilia Ortiz is the face of her Avon empire, recruiting sales agents in the neighborhood supermarket or offering cafecito to customers visiting her Miami Lakes home cluttered with boxes full of hand creams and wrinkle reducers. Juan handles customer service, checking computer records and enrolling new sales agents on their team.
Cecilia says her marriage benefits with her husband in the business. It allows the couple, married 35 years, to spend time together and take off on vacations whenever they choose.
Cecilia believes Latin women in particular reach their goals at Avon faster when they have their husband's support. So in courting and mentoring new sales agents, she pitches the husbands, too.
But balance can get tricky when both partners are living and breathing the business. Tamara Monosoff, founder of Mom Inventors, said she and her husband, Brad Kofoed, set ground rules when he left a sales career to join as president of her successful company.
"We can't talk about business in the bedroom, " Monosoff says. That means, if one partner is lying awake at midnight thinking about a work issue, he or she can't turn and ask the other, "Did you see that e-mail?" says Monosoff. "The other person has to remind them and say, 'We'll talk about it in the office in the morning.' "
Maintaining professional decorum can be a challenge, too.
In the 10 years since Rich Brown joined his wife's $10 million destination management company, Welcome Florida, he has played down their relationship. His wife, Lynn Griffith, who had operated the business 14 years when he joined, says they do this because "it doesn't look as mom and pop." Also, it makes it easier for her to become an intermediary with a client, if necessary.
Of course, employing a spouse also creates the potential for bruised egos or conflicts over who has final say on which decisions.
Brown says he and his wife have different strengths, and he can live with his wife having the upper hand at work. "I'm not the face of business with most clients, and that can be a challenge to the ego." But more of a challenge, he says, is constantly redefining separation. Griffith agrees: " When you're the boss all day, it's hard sometimes to be feminine at night when you get home."
Clearly, the stakes are high financially and emotionally. But when it works, there's unique power in couples combining their strengths. Recently, Avon worldwide recognized Cecilia Ortiz for being a role model in empowering other women to succeed. It acknowledge her husband's role, too.
"They make a great team, " says Rosa Moya-Suarez, an Avon manager. "He knows just as much about Avon as she does."


Could you work with your spouse? I admit, I don't think my marriage would survive it.