I Love You, but You’re Fired

A blog about business and economics.
May 16 2014 7:30 AM

I Love You, but You’re Fired

488554395-newly-wed-valentina-and-her-groom-igor-chava-kiss-as
Saying "I do" doesn't necessarily lead to corporate synergy.

Photo by Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

This story originally appeared on Inc

In 2010, Anna Birch fired her husband from the company they had co-founded in 1997. Anna is president and CEO of Adventure Links, a Clifton, Virginia, outdoor-education and leadership-development center. Until his dismissal, her husband, Austin, was the company vice president, overseeing finance and data management. The spouses had different visions about company culture, Anna explained. She wanted to promote autonomy and accountability in the leadership team. Austin struggled with trust and desired greater control. 

Advertisement

"We were impeding growth of the company and our individual leaders through micromanagement," Anna told me. "They weren't clear about the degree of freedom they had to make decisions. I wanted to create a culture where they could own their own roles. Austin wanted to supervise. We were also chiseling away at a perfectly wonderful family life by allowing our differences to spill over into our family and marriage."

Austin not surprisingly, responded angrily to being fired. For her part, Anna felt confused and isolated, no longer sure what to share with him about the business and what to withhold. "Austin's attitude was, 'You wanted me out of the business. So now you make it work,'" Anna said. "I felt I had to continuously defend the company's progress."

Working with your spouse can be divine or difficult. I've interviewed many entrepreneurial couples that love working together and can't imagine building their life's dream with anyone else. But differences that are complementary—even charming—in a personal relationship can make both spouses bristle in a business context. And working together can reveal quirks that might never have surfaced in domestic life. 

My husband and I were more like Anna and Austin. I worked in Gary's company, Stonyfield Yogurt, for a couple of years before we both realized it was not a good fit. 

Since the firing, Anna and Austin have worked hard to identify each person's best and highest use. Anna knows her strength lies in growing her company. From the beginning, both spouses recognized that Adventure Links was Anna's passion. Now, Austin is working to find his. "At one point, Austin told me I'd given him a gift: the opportunity to reflect on what he really wanted to pursue," said Anna.

Austin hasn't left the business entirely. He still spends 20 percent of his time there, working only on tasks he enjoys and is suited for. And the two have resolved their disagreements. "Austin gets what I was trying to achieve culturally with the team," Anna said, "and he sees that I've accommodated some of his concerns."

Anna believes that, in the end, the experience has been good for the couple. "Unfortunately, it had to get ugly to see what wasn't working," she said. She advises entrepreneurial couples to develop clarity around each spouse's role in the company and at home, and to check in at regular intervals to discuss what is and isn't working. "Coasting is not good," Anna warned. 

I heartily second Anna's advice about clarifying roles and stepping back periodically to re-evaluate the arrangement. Such check-ins are not performance reviews. They are relationship reviews, with the option of reconfiguring either spouse's role. If differences can't be reconciled, one person should gracefully bow out.

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is an Inc contributing editor.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.