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Partner in business and in life

  • January 9, 2011 - 3:01 PM

QI am in a small Web design and development company, and my business partner is also my partner in life. What advice would you have to keep our business and personal life strong?

NICK SHIPPERS

FOUNDER & CO-PRINCIPAL, WWW.MYMOXIE.COM

AThe specific answers to this question are as varied as the couples involved in situations like yours. But sometimes, asking the right question is even more important than knowing the answer, and on that count you deserve congratulations! Your question reveals a perspective that is already an advantage you have: thinking about this strategically and planning for it.

In an article published in Family Business Review in 2009, I suggest that members of family businesses consider three types of fit between their family and business lives: supplementary, complementary and facilitative.

Simplified, a supplementary fit encourages positive spillover between home and work. You use "assets" in both realms, regardless of where they were developed. For example, if one of you goes to a conference on communication skills in order to build customer relationships, that partner explicitly applies these skills in your relationship as well, so both benefit. Supplementary fit also means you discuss and agree on values and priorities that span both realms.

A complementary fit means that individuals have the opportunity to express elements of themselves in one realm that don't get expressed in the other. For each family this will mean different things. For example, it may mean you two take turns being "work primary" and "home primary," depending on what projects are going on in each. It may mean keeping some things explicitly separate, such as "no business talk on date night."

A facilitative fit means that you build support for one system into the other. When making decisions at work, take into account home and relationship, and when making decisions at home, take the business into account. This seems obvious, but many family businesses don't do it. Instead, they keep the business completely separate, thereby passing up opportunities to build systems that are mutually supportive and beneficial to both relationships and the business.

TERESA J. ROTHAUSEN-VANGE, MANAGEMENT PROFESSOR, OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS, UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS

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