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What 7 CEOs learned from hiring their husbands

When is it a good idea to make your spouse your employee?

What 7 CEOs learned from hiring their husbands
[Photo: Asaf R/Unsplash]

As any successful founder knows, it’s critical to have employees who respect you and support your vision for the company. But when is it a good idea to make your spouse one of those people? We asked seven female entrepreneurs across a range of businesses to discuss the challenges and joys of hiring–and working closely–with their husbands. 

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“His strengths compliment my weaknesses”

Business mentor and copy expert Merel Kriegsman helps online coaches and service providers bring in consistent, well-paying gigs. She’s been in business for a little over three years and her company’s growth has been impressive. She made $25,000 in revenue during year one, $180,000 the next, and $500,000 last year. As her business boomed, her husband, Keith, was looking for a job. Kriegsman saw an opportunity. Not only was Keith her partner and confidant, he had a knack for what she calls the “nitty-gritty stuff.” While she makes sales and supports her clients, he runs the daily operations and handles the money management.

In the beginning, Kriegsman says she was an inexperienced boss with no managing experience, which set them up for quite a few fights. “I was way too critical, forgot to compliment him, and took the housework he did for granted,” she says. “Now that we’ve got the other team members in place we should’ve hired a year ago, things are much, much better. Now he only does the tasks in his ‘zone of genius,’ instead of defaulting to do everything I cannot do.”

Today, he’s the CFO of the company and she says the experience has taught her the value of balance within the relationship. She gives him the reins when it comes to hiring decisions and the software they use, and he respects her vision for the company. This applies in and out of the office, and allows both of them to know when to take the lead and when to step back. “It’s not about being submissive; it’s about letting the other lead. Giving him that space. In the end, it’s about love.” 

“I let him do his thing. He lets me do mine”

Winnie Sun opened financial services consulting firm Sun Group Wealth Partners in 2000 as part of Smith Barney. In 2011, the firm became independent. Sun has seem substantial success and their current assets under management tally up to an impressive $180 million. Her husband, Tim, worked as a high-level network engineer for many Fortune 500 companies, so when it came time to hire a chief technological officer, Sun says he was the natural choice. It made sense not only for the company, but for their hectic family life, she says. “This gave us an opportunity to have someone we trust handle our technology and network security needs, and it gave him a deeper understanding of what I was doing every day in the office,” she says. “This allowed us to free him from the typical IT grind, and he can also spend time with our kids, which he loves.”

Though technically he’s on her payroll, Winnie says she doesn’t manage her husband because their roles within the company don’t often overlap. That’s just how she likes it. “I think this is very important when you work at the same company: He does his thing, I do mine. It allows the rest of the team to clearly understand who to go to for what duties.”

“It’s allowed me to cut to the chase”

Shelley Simpson, founder and creative director of Mud Australia, is passionate about porcelain. Her company sells handmade creations that feature a minimalist aesthetic and an artisan finish. Founded in 1994, the brand has seen consistent 30% growth year over year. When they started, Simpson and her husband James had two young children, and it made more sense for him to work for Mud, instead of for another business. She says they have complimentary skills and his expertise has significantly contributed to their upward mobility. He’s in charge of marketing and web development.

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One of the biggest benefits of working alongside someone you know so well is the ability to express what you mean in a different way, says Simpson. “Since we have a personal relationship, we can communicate more directly with each other than we would with other team members,” she says. “This is a great way to efficiently get to the bottom of things faster.” Though they’re good at leaving work at the office at the end of the day, Simpson says they’ve developed an effective balance that allows them to be partners–on and off the clock.

“It made me trust him more”

In 2013, Lais Pontes Greene opened her public relations agency, primarily focusing on fashion. But over the years, she saw tremendous growth and change, leading her to branch out into other industries. By year two, she had clients in 13 countries and Forbes named her one of the 30 Under 30, thanks to her breakthrough campaigns. By late 2018, she and her husband, Jason, had founded EverGreene Creative, a boutique digital marketing agency that covers all legs of marketing. They’ve been in business together since they got married and started their family. Jason primarily leads new client acquisition, thanks to his background in the real estate industry, and it was his ability to wrangle in the work that led them to launch EverGreene.

While Greene says there was a bit of a learning curve in the beginning, one of the biggest benefits to having her husband on her team is how it’s enriched their connection, she says. “The more we worked together, the more I trusted to have my husband help with different aspects of the business. Working with my husband taught me that as a female entrepreneur, it is really important to communicate to your team members in a way that they will best understand, knowing that different people require different methods.”

“It’s taught me to let others lead”

Annie Tevelin launched natural skincare company SkinOwl in 2013. Since then, company’s revenue has grown 200% year over year, and the team has expanded to international markets, including Hong Kong and Australia. In 2018, the company decided to also launch a podcast called Off the Record, highlighting influential guests of all backgrounds to share their life experiences. Their team is quite small, but Tevelin knew when they invested in the podcast that she’d need a chief operating officer to step in. But not just any COO–she wanted someone she “trusted implicitly and [who] truly loved the brand.” She found that in her husband, Micah. In addition to the podcast, he also orchestrates their quarterly workshops and dinner series, The Parliament Project.

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Even though so far things are going smoothly, Annie says if you would have asked her before she got married if she’d ever work with her husband, she would have laughed. “I am an extremely independent woman and like to take the lead and make things happen,” she says. “I have realized through the years the importance of hiring the right people who believe in your company, are loyal, work hard, believe in your mission, and are fun to work with. My husband absolutely met all of these requirements.”

The biggest lesson for Annie has been to let go of control. “Leave some things unplanned,” she says. “Sometimes you just let your business sense and gut lead the way, and you will be just fine.”

“He supports–and shares–my passion”

Nova Covington’s company, Goddess Garden, creates mineral sunscreens free from ingredients that could harm marine life or people. Since she founded the line in 2004, she’s expanded to offer skincare, aromatherapy, and baby products. Goddess Garden products are found in stores across the United States and Canada, including Whole Foods. As the company has grown, Covington was able to hire a vice president of operations. She says her husband Paul’s MBA and experience as a biochemist made the decision easy. It certainly helped that he was just as invested in the company as she was: “All of our best ideas have come from collaborations and impromptu brainstorms between the two of us,” she says. “Years ago, we made a rule to not talk about work after 9 p.m., which we continue to break over and over again. What can I say? Entrepreneurs are obsessed.”

“We function so well as a team”

Olivia Landau’s blog eventually grew into a business venture via TechStars called The Clear Cut. This direct-to-consumer diamond business started as a diamond concierge service allowing couples to create bespoke engagement rings, but now has expanded to offer a capsule collection of everyday diamonds. Recently, they hit the $1 million mark of year-to-date sales within the first quarter of 2019. The team has been averaging nearly 100% quarter over quarter.

Landau met her husband Kyle while they were both studying at the Gemological Institute of America. Kyle had founded a mining company in Sierra Leone and knew much about the country, but little about diamonds. When the Ebola epidemic hit the small country–and thus, Kyle’s business–he returned stateside to attend Columbia University. That’s when the pieces started falling together for them to work together. 

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Landau started a blog for friends and family to answer commonly asked diamond-related questions, and since many of Kyle’s classmates were proposing, he directed them to her. “I quickly became Columbia Business School’s unofficial private jeweler,” she says. “I started posting my designs on Instagram and my account gained traction. Soon, I was overwhelmed with requests for bespoke rings from couples across the country.”  

Seeing a major opportunity, she knew she needed an extra hand to help her build the business. Kyle turned down a full-time job at Goldman Sachs and came on as her chief operating officer. “We are able to bounce ideas off each other and solve problems from any potential angle. Because I’m the CEO and often preoccupied with the bigger picture, Kyle is on the front line of communication with our customers and daily transactions,” she says. “The two of us function as a team, and it fosters a really collaborative work environment that translates to the rest of the team. He allows me to lead and encourages me to trust my instincts, especially when it comes to making large decisions or in talking with our investors.”

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