Family-owned Businesses: Recollections, Memoirs and Lessons Learned

by Shonali Burke on November 10, 2010

This is Part I of a two-part series.

Live together, work together

For many years, I pondered the idea of collaborating with a family member in business.

I remember my mom always telling my siblings and I how we should all pull together, combine our collective resources and talents under one roof and launch a family-owned business. The problem with this concept was not the idea itself but rather my mom’s romantic notions about a family-owned business.

Family-owned or not, a business is a business and incredible investments of work, time, effort and resources are involved and required; a reality check my mom often overlooked.

There were, over time, various attempts to do the “family-owned” business thing but those attempts were, at best, miserable. Either family members did not take the business seriously or family issues or challenges got in the way somehow.

In the 2000s, even I tried to incorporate a family member into my biz back then: a retail shop which I co-owned with a beloved and extremely close family member — my own husband.

Let me just say that, based on that husband-wife ownership experience, working with your spouse is something that is absolutely not for everyone.

Yeah, I know … sometimes it works. There have been many cases where married couples work exceptionally work well together and attain success.

Most of the time, however, I just don’t see how it can work, period. My husband’s work ethic and my work ethic were not complementary to one another. He was more of a “by the book” kind-of-guy who could not adapt well to the unstructured lifestyle of entrepreneurialism. And I was the less-high-strung, more informal or casual one who could multi-task and thrive quite well in a non-traditional, non-8-to-5 format.

Our different work rhythms alone were difficult to steer, but even worse was my husband’s inability to, as I saw it, compartmentalize our lives.

For example, if it was time for bed, rest or relaxation, he would not be able to “shut off” work mode. Instead, he’d proceed on interrogations about operations, payroll, customer orders or some other aspect of the business that was on his mind.

In stark contrast, however, I was able to keep rest and family time separate from work time. In summary, I could let the work topics, matters and issues go once home whereas my hubby was not as successful in disconnecting.

Neither of our approaches was right or wrong, better or worse… just different.

Unfortunately, while in some cases, opposites do attract … in our scenario, “way too opposite” simply just backfired. Still, working so closely alongside my husband was an excellent experience.

We both learned a lot and re-earned respect and admiration for one another in the professional arena.

In the end, we admitted that while we love each other deeply, we just don’t work well together in a professional work setting, despite our best efforts to. Moreover, we agreed to avoid working together again to prevent having the marriage become more of a “merger” than a husband-wife relationship.

These frank realities actually were deeply enlightening and created a very positive conclusion to a highly interesting chapter in our married lives.

In my next blog post, I’ll share some specific “lessons learned” to apply when working with family members in business as well as other anecdotal stories inspired by fam-biz-based entrepreneurship.

Image: Philippe Lewicki via Flickr, Creative Commons

Mayra Ruiz is founder of Ruiz McPherson Communications, a social media influence and digital marketing service based in historic Charles Town, West Virginia. With more than 15 years of hands-on marketing, communications and PR experience, Mayra leads her clients forward on all aspects of creative direction, online promotion and marketing communications with innovation, passion and gusto.  When offline, Mayra enjoys “old fashioned” non-techy stuff like cooking, sewing and collecting vintage treasures from area antiques stores. She can be reached at www.twitter.com/mayraruiz or www.twitter.com/ruizmcpherson (her marketing practice).

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