Copreneurs: Who’s on Top?

I decided to take a mid-series break from the Seven Deadly Sins of an Entrepreneur because  its Valentine’s Day, and I have a topic I’ve been saving for the holiday.

In a privately held business, we frequently see husband and wife working together. These “copreneurs” divide the critical management components of the company between them. In a smaller business it may be all of the management responsibilities. In larger companies, it is still the key decision making functions.

I’ve seen all the permutations of a couple running a business. A wife who is the main sales person, with a husband to keeps the books. A husband who is a charismatic leader with a wife for support. A wife who designs the product and a husband who delivers it. A husband who prefers to be left as a working technician, with a wife who handles all of the business functions.

There are great advantages to working with someone you can trust implicitly. You don’t have to check the financials. After all, if a spouse is finagling the books, the money is presumably going into your pocket anyway.

Over the last two decades of facilitating business owner peer groups, I’ve seen the issue of a couple working together reach crisis level exactly four times. On those four occasions, the member started a conversation with “I love my spouse, and want to stay married, but it is time we stopped working together. How can I fire him and keep our relationship healthy?”

That right. Fire him. In all four instances, it was a female business owner who was preparing to terminate her husband. Despite knowing dozens, and perhaps scores of copreneurs, I’ve never heard a husband even mention firing his wife.

Why is that? Some “wife untouchability” is because by far the most common copreneurship is a husband/founder/salesperson and an administrator/controller wife. The husband has little or no idea how to make the whole financial process work without her.

Sometimes the husband has to go because he is trying to establish his primacy in a company where it simple isn’t the case, but his ego can’t take being regarded as second-in-command by employees.

Sometimes the wife is untouchable because the husband wants to be allowed to focus on his area of greatest interest to the exclusion of good management. The wife is left to handle all the people and issues he leaves in his wake.

Sometimes the husband has to go because his bad “owner” habits distract the wife from running the business.

And sometimes the wife is untouchable simply because the husband knows what coming home would be like if he tried it.

partner treesLeila and I have been married almost 42 years. We worked separately, then in the same company, then owned a company, then worked separately again for a decade, and now again as working co-owners for the last 15 years.

It works because she knows that I have the last word in any disagreement. I know that the last words had better be “Yes dear.”

All kidding aside. Happy Valentine’s day to my partner, my lover and my sweetheart. Thanks Chief!

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4 Responses to Copreneurs: Who’s on Top?

  1. Bill Faucher says:

    Nicely done!

  2. Todd Davis says:

    LOL! Love it that you have to have the last words!

    My wife and I have worked together for almost all of our 21 years of married life. Works for me! And, if we disagree, she allows me to get “my say” into the conversation/discussion, before agreeing to do it her way. (Usually.)

    Good stuff, John. Thanks for putting it out there.

  3. David Basri says:

    My wife and I have co-owned (literally) a small software company for 20 years. I am the technical architect and a developer, plus the sales person. She does the accounting, designs the marketing materials and sometimes the QA person from (well you get the idea). We met working in a bank together. Between the bank where we met and our current company were 6 other companies between us. In 3 of the 6 we still worked together at the company. While it has not always been smooth sailing, a pet phrase between us is, “We build things together.”

  4. Laura Drury says:

    Interesting insights to contemplate. Thanks.

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