Within two years of operation, Fola and Funmi (not real names) almost ended their bakery business, which they started some years ago in Lagos. They nearly quit when the business was almost leading to the crash of their five-year-old marriage.
Fola is a bank worker-turned-entrepreneur while his wife is an accountant. They had both decided to jointly run the business, though it was originally Funmi’s idea.
But in less than a year of starting the business, the two always disagreed on management style and other issues like financial management.
“One of the issues we had was when Fola hired one of his brothers as a worker at the bakery. The guy never saw his job as a job. He resumed at work anytime he wanted and at the end of the month expected to be paid full salary. This pissed me off on many occasions and I told my husband to sack him. But he couldn’t,” Funmi told our correspondent during an interview.
Apparently, Fola didn’t want to offend his brother, who is about three years older than him–a situation Funmi found unsettling.
She said, “One day when my husband was not around, I had a faceoff with his brother at the bakery and he felt I insulted him. I told him I didn’t insult him; I was only doing my job as his boss. He said I was never his boss, so he reported me to my husband, who got angry with me. It took about two months to settle the disagreement.
“The incident pained me because I couldn’t understand why my husband saw the bakery as a family affair instead of a business. On another occasion, Fola’s brother mismanaged N200,000 belonging to the company but my husband didn’t chastise him. Family members intervened and begged us to forgive him. My husband accepted and didn’t ask his brother to refund the money. I was furious!”
To worsen the matter, Funmi complained that her husband was not frugal with the company income, which made her more frustrated.
She said, “There was an occasion my husband lent a friend N400,000 from the money derived from sales. When I confronted him on the matter, he said his friend needed money urgently and he would pay back the following week.
For months, his friend didn’t pay back.
“Then, my husband ordered some designer wear using the company’s funds. He also got some items for me which I never needed. All that was on my head was how to grow the business but my husband saw it mainly as a cash cow.”
At this point, Funmi said she couldn’t bear it anymore, saying the following day after the incident, she made up her mind to quit the business at the end of that month.
She said, “My husband was shocked that I wanted to leave the company. Over the next two weeks, he pleaded with me every day not to quit. He promised to change his management style. He said he was ready to sign an agreement to this end.
“As an accountant and human resources professional, I told him my expectations of him, including being firmer on issues. We also agreed on a monthly income for both of us. I let him know he didn’t have any right to dip his hands into the company’s purse anyhow. We signed a proper agreement.
“My understanding was that we didn’t both have a mutual agreement at the beginning of the business and it almost crashed it, as well as our marriage. Thankfully, we are both doing great today,”
Although being business partners with one’s spouse has its merits, it also has demerits, and regrettably, it can lead to crisis in the business and ultimately in the marriage. While many spouses-owned businesses thrive, others fail due to many factors.
In his March 1971 article titled, Conflicts that plague family businesses, American psychologist and management consultant, Harry Levinson (1922-2012), stated that operating a family-owned business was often “grievously complicated” by friction arising from rivalries involving the family members such as husband and wife, parents and children, siblings or other family members who held positions in the business or at least derived income from it.
Unless the principals faced up to their feelings of hostility, Levinson said in his Harvard Business Review article that the business would suffer and might even die.
Also, a Wharton School of Business professor at the University of Pennsylvania, United States, Stew Friedman, said in a Financial Times article that running a business with a romantic partner was “complicated” but could include many benefits, the main one being trust.
“A hoped-for shared future brings the understanding that you are in this together for the long run,” he said, adding that managing boundaries between the work relationship and the marriage or family connection was vital.
Business managers, psychologists, and lawyers also suggested the following seven principles to run a successful business with one’s spouse.
Be on same page in terms of goals, expectations
Whether someone in the marriage is already involved in a business and they are contemplating bringing on their spouse, or two partners are just deciding to start a business from the scratch together, the founder and creative director of Epiphany Marketing Management, Mindy Lilyquist, recommended having a mutual understanding of the business’ goals and expectations.
“Set ground rules about how business decisions will be made to help avoid stress and strain on your marriage. For you and your spouse to be successful in your home business, honest communication is crucial,” Lilyquist wrote on thebalancesmb.com.
For Lilyquist, an advantage to having a spouse in a business is that they can each take care of tasks that they are best at. “Dividing responsibilities can also help you avoid the conflict of both trying to do the same thing, but having different ideas on how it should be done,” she said.
Lilyquist also suggested setting clear rules of operation and trusting each other. “Once you have decided on which areas of the business each of you will manage, set up clear rules of operation and don’t veer from it. Most importantly, you do your job and trust your spouse to do theirs. Trying to micro-manage is not only inefficient, it tells your spouse that you are not confident in his or her abilities,” she added.
In a similar manner, a senior partner at Banyan Family Business Advisors in the US, Dr. Marion Hampton, advised couples in business to detail their duties.
“Even if each partner has naturally slipped into a particular role in the business, it is critical to sit down, give both spouses a title and write down their job responsibilities,” she wrote on success.com.
Set boundaries between marriage and business time
A Lagos-based business developer and management expert, Mr Sola Olorunyomi, advised couples to create boundaries between “married time” and “business time.”
He said, “It is good for the couples to set boundaries between their marriage and business. When it comes to work, emotions should be detached. There should be no sentiments. Decisions should be purely based on the company’s goals and objectives, not on personal relationships.
“One of the ways to do that is to have separate offices and setting schedules for work to be done. And when the workday is over, the couples can now relate as lovers. From work, they can now talk about home affairs. But at work, the relationship should be kept official. I always advise couples to discuss this when starting a business together.”
Don’t be afraid to involve a trusted third party
Just because it is family business doesn’t mean the business operations have to stay strictly between husband and wife, Lilyquist stated.
“Bringing in a trusted third party to assist with certain areas of the business may take off some of the pressure. This is especially true if there are areas neither of the couples is knowledgeable about or agree on. A third person can bring more talent to the business, as well as be a tie-breaking vote on a decision,” she said.
In her submission, Hampton said a third party could be by way of hiring consultants.
She said, “Many businesses benefit from consultants who can lend an objective perspective. With outside help, husband-wife teams, in particular, can resolve many of the logistical and emotional stressors that naturally emerge.
“Family business advisers, couples’ therapists, advisory boards and coaches can be valuable investments for couple-owned businesses. Especially in situations where one spouse is not carrying their weight, an adviser is necessary to open the lines of communication.”
Hold a business meeting every month
Lilyquist stated that the fact that a business was family-owned didn’t mean there should not be official meetings.
“Success in any goal involves evaluating and readjusting. The same is true in a business run by spouses. It’s important that they take time at least once a month to review their goals and accomplishments, as well as discuss issues and concerns, and make any adjustments needed to keep their business on the right path,” she said.
At such meetings, Lilyquist said it was important for couples to be professional, and not bring in their personal issues when discussing their business.
Resolve conflicts healthily
No matter how hard they try, an entrepreneur and marriage counsellor based in Ibadan, Oyo State, Mrs Bolatito Agelebe, said couples were bound to have conflicts in business, advising them to develop a healthy way of handling such when they arose.
She said, “No couple can live together without having conflicts from time to time. When they own a joint business, they should expect more conflicts due to different backgrounds, management styles, and sometimes education.
“Couples should communicate their differences and resolve them healthily such as they would do at home if there was no business relationship.”
Trust each other
An Abuja-based business owner and management coach, Mr Gabriel Chuks, advised couples in business to trust each other, stating it was the most important factor to build a prosperous business.
“Running a business requires a great deal of faith, both in your own abilities and those of your business partner. Couples should ensure that fundamental trust is there at the outset. Much of the process is ‘divide and conquer,’ so it’s imperative to trust your partner and also for you to feel they trust you equally,” he said.