Q&A: Running a business with your spouse

June 28, 2023

Laura and Tom Kuntz have worked side by side at Laurel Wealth Planning for more than 17 years. As Tom retires from LWP, we interviewed the two about working closely together as a married couple. They shared the ups and downs and some key considerations for other couples considering running a business together.

Tom joined Laurel Wealth Planning a few years after Laura founded the firm. At that time, Tom was ready to leave his 30-year career as a software engineer and Laura’s growing firm needed to replace a departing employee.

How did you decide to work together?

Tom: I was happy being a software engineer, but I was moving more into management and didn’t care for it. When Laura had an opening, I knew I could learn that job. We agreed that I would take early retirement from my engineering job at 55 and join the business.

Laura: I wanted Tom to step into that open role because he was familiar with the business, a fast-learner, and detail-oriented. We had enough money to buy health insurance for the family, but we would be losing his predictable salary. We thought it was worth that risk. It ended up being a simple transition.

Can you share some highs and lows of working with your spouse?

Laura: For me, there was a huge twofold benefit to having Tom on staff. First, because he had such a vested interest in the business, I could trust him completely to handle the finances and could count on him to be a utility player who shifted as business needs changed. Second, being here gave him the flexibility to be our family manager who was available to pick up the kids, answer their calls, etc.

One challenge was that it took a little while to settle into what our roles were, which caused some conflict. We had to figure out whether we were partners or employer/employee or something in between. In our personal life we are equal partners, but in the business, I had to be the leader since I had more experience. Being his boss was sometimes hard on both of us.

Tom: I enjoyed that I got to see what the business was like and see the work that Laura does and the service she provides. I got to know clients and have a relationship with them. I liked being part of a small business that was almost like a family. Laura always cautioned me to not treat the younger team members as my children, but it was hard not to.

I sometimes would like to have been treated as just a regular employee who could leave at any time for any reason. Even when finally retiring, I gave a 52-week notice so we could plan for how to replace the work I did in some confidential areas.

Did being married influence your relationship at work?

Tom: We are very different people with different strengths — and that didn’t change when I went to work for Laura. It worked for us because we were so good at knowing in our personal relationship what our strengths were. The same carried through to business. Mine was details; hers was growth. I wasn’t going to step on her toes because I knew it was her strength.

Laura: I appreciated having a confidant when I needed a sounding board. He gave good feedback because he knew the business well. Our CPA once said, “Tom is your confidential confidante. That’s a valid business asset.”

Did working together influence your relationship at home?

Laura: We would talk about work at home, and occasionally there was conflict, but, for the most part, we were able to compartmentalize personal vs. business and remain equals at home.

Tom: When I was winding down to part-time work to prepare for retirement, I kept getting reeled back in again. I would get mad, then she would get mad at me, the next day we would calm down and go on as normal.

Any advice for couples considering working together?

Tom: If two people work together, they need to know their strengths and their roles. If they both want to be 51% owners, that doesn’t work.

Laura: It takes a trusting relationship. Trust is key — more than communication or anything else. You will have stress and conflict and there is a lot to figure out, so you need to have a strong foundation. If you both have expertise, you have to figure out how to divide it up and make business decisions.

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