How many of us have returned home from work and complained to our spouse about our boss, coworkers or job? It’s nice to have that impartial ear to vent to and sympathetic shoulder to cry on when things aren’t going our way. But what if your boss or coworker is your spouse and the job is the one that you are in together? How do you express your concerns when personal relationships are at stake? It may be tricky, but it can be done. The following couples have built successful businesses by striking the perfect balance between work and home life, and they all have one thing in common: They leave business at the office and personal situations at home.
Loretta and Jim Leonard
When Loretta Leonard decided to leave the world of retail management five years ago to join her husband in his home-building business, she quickly realized that fashion and real estate are two very different worlds. “It’s harder to sell a home than a dress,” says the stylish 55-year-old. “It’s not something that can be returned.” But with her understanding of the basics of sales and good customer service, Loretta quickly found her groove and now works as the community sales manager for Greenboro Homes, a company with four distinct communities throughout San Antonio. “I knew she could learn what she needed, but it was trial by fire,” says husband Jim, who worked side by side with his wife every day for the first six months of her career. “Every sale we made, we made together,” he recalls, adding that seeing his wife share in his excitement from making a sale fills him with pride.
But even though he helped his wife get her feet wet in the business, it didn’t mean that she was shown preferential treatment. On the contrary, Loretta says she had to work harder than anyone else to prove herself to her fellow employees and her boss. “In any business you have to have a boss,” she explains. “I just happened to be married to mine.” The Leonards, who have been married 28 years, met and became fast friends for two years before they began dating. Both credit that friendship for the success of their business — and their marriage. But that’s not to say there haven’t been some learning curves along the way. As Jim explains, when you are the boss, there are times you must chastise employees, but you can’t allow that to follow you home.
“We had to learn that what happens at work stays at work and vice versa,” he says.
“We go over things at home sometimes, but it’s more idea sharing and using each other as an outlet,” adds Loretta. “I think we are lucky to work together because we help each other out.” Overcoming obstacles together and sharing in the company’s successes is one of the Leonards’ favorite things about their joint venture, and after five years, they are still as excited over each sale as they were in the beginning. “When someone is spending more money than they ever have on anything and they are doing it with you, that’s the ultimate compliment,” Jim declares. But even more than the success of their business, the Leonards are most proud of the example they have worked hard to set for their two grown children. “They see in us what a successful marriage and business should be,” says Loretta. “They both take hard work, commitment and dedication.”
Go to www.greenborohomesonline.com for more information on Park Place Recreation.
Marilyn and Bob Aherns
Park Place Recreation Design
We all know the saying about “all work and no play,” but for Bob and Marilyn Ahrens, work is all about play. They are the owners of Park Place Recreation Design, a company that designs and builds playgrounds for elementary schools and parks. It is a business that came naturally to Bob, whose grandfather invented and patented a merry-go-round in the 1920s. “My dad took my grandfather’s design and began building them before World War II,” says Bob. “He drove them around on the back of a trailer and sold them door to door. If you wanted to buy one, he installed it right there.” The Ahrenses began their recreation business immediately after they married in 1981, so working together is all this couple has ever known. From the beginning, it has been an equal partnership, with Marilyn handling the paperwork (and juggling the demands of motherhood) and Bob taking charge of the pitching and sales.
“It’s 50/50, but it’s very definite what is in my 50 and what is in her 50,” laughs Bob. Marilyn agrees. “You have to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” she explains. “I am not a salesperson; I want to be behind the scenes. Bob doesn’t want to deal with paperwork and finances. It works out well.”
The Ahrenses, who dated for more than a year before tying the knot, say they have always had fun together. Marilyn was attracted to Bob’s sense of humor and wit, and the couple have a genuine liking for one another. From the early days, when they ran the business out of a spare bedroom, to today, with the addition of a separate home office, they say that most of their disagreements have been business related. “We are both easy to get along with, and neither of us has a hot temper,” she says. “We just come inside and forget it and go out to dinner.” Although it works well for the Ahrenses, Marilyn realizes that working with your spouse is not for everyone. “It really depends on the people,” she says thoughtfully. “I have friends that say they could never work with their husbands.”
But for the Ahrenses, whose oldest son joined the company two years ago, it is just their way of life. “It makes a difference to know that your business partner is someone you completely trust,” he says. “It is a neat way to operate a business.” When they are not in the adjacent office, the couple enjoy hanging out on their idyllic 4 1/2-acre property, which includes a pond, a pool and a family of ducks that stop by the family’s front porch every day to say hello. The entire place is a reminder of what hard work and dedication can bring. “It is an ideal working environment,” says Bob. “Even in disagreement, you know you are working for the same cause.”
Go to http://www.miracleparkplace.com for more information on Park Place Recreation Desgins.
Mary and Frank Garza
Garza Masonry Stone
When Mary and Frank Garza married 34 years ago, the new bride immediately began working to help her young husband grow his masonry and stone business. She drove all across the city delivering invoices, often pulling over on the road to nurse one of the couple’s three children. “If it wasn’t for Mary, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” husband Frank acknowledges, adding that his wife even drove a dump truck while she was pregnant. Today, Frank takes care of the quarrying and deliveries between the Boerne and San Antonio locations, and the three Garza children — Frank Jr., Nancy and Grace — all have roles within the company. But from handling the paperwork to her vast knowledge of the stones and their capabilities, it is Mary that is the glue that holds the business and family together. “You need someone like Mary to make things run smoothly,” says Frank with pride. “When someone doesn’t pay, she’s on it, and she keeps me straightened out too.” Family is important to the Garzas, and Frank learned the quarrying business at the hands of his uncle. “They quarried manually,” explains Mary. “There were none of these big machines around.” Frank, whom Mary describes as a “hard worker,” learned the basics before getting drafted for the Vietnam War. When he returned, he branched out on his own. Before long, the business grew and evolved, as did the Garza family. Three children and two locations later, Garza Masonry Stone is one of the best-known names in the business. They are the company behind the fountain in front of the Southwest Craft Center, the fence that surrounds the Alamo, and the altar in Mission Concepción — just to name a few.
But what is even more amazing about the success of this business is that not only do all the Garzas work together, they all live together too! That can make separating business and home life a challenge. “We try to leave it at the office and not bring it home,” Mary says, adding that it helps that they are spread out between the San Antonio and Boerne offices. “It’s not like we’re together all the time,” she chuckles, “but we don’t have to see each other to know we are making faces over the phone.” The family gathers for dinners several times a week and enjoys traveling together to places like Europe, especially Greece and Italy. It is that entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to family that has driven this business to succeed. Well, that and, of course, Mary. “You must have a supportive wife,” says Frank. “Without that you can never make it in a business.”
Nancy and Jeff Victor
Help Me! Tech Team
When outgoing Nancy Victor met her (quieter) future husband, Jeff, at the tender age of 13, she had no idea that they would one day be partners — both in business and life. The Victors are the owners of Help Me! Tech Team (formerly Help Me! Computers) a company they began 17 years ago as a way to help small-to-medium business and residential computer users. Both come from entrepreneurial backgrounds, so when the idea for the business came to them, they jumped right in. “We fly by the seat of our pants,” says the bubbly Nancy. “That’s how we roll.” Jeff, whose background is in mechanical engineering, and Nancy, who was once with the government in purchasing information technology, both bring definite skill sets to the job that complement each other beautifully. It is by utilizing those strengths and clearly defining their roles that this couple (who recently brought Nancy’s mom and dad into the business) find harmony. “You must have balance,” explains Nancy. “You must accept and embrace each other for the different things you bring to the table.”
It was that way of thinking that caused the Victors to change the name of their company to include the words Tech Team. “Team encompasses who we are,” Nancy explains. “We are a team in business, we are on our clients’ teams, and we are a team in family and marriage.” But even the strongest teams have weaknesses, and Nancy says that it is important to have realistic expectations when you decide to work with family. “You cannot go into it thinking that you will never disagree or thinking that when you do disagree that the business is falling apart,” she cautions. “It’s not going to be smooth sailing all the time, but there is no one I would rather go through the tough times with or share the successes with than my family.” As with the other husband and wife teams, one of the biggest challenges for the Victors is recognizing when it is time to leave the business behind and step back and just be a family. They enjoy spending time with their two children as well as traveling and antiquing together. They also maintain separate offices within their buildings so that they have some personal space. “But I still look forward to seeing him in the middle of the day when he sticks his head in to say hi,” Nancy giggles.
You would think that with their polar opposite personalities, the Victors would have very different ideas on running a business. But this high-tech duo share a commonality that runs deep, and that is their faith. It directs their lives both personally and professionally and keeps them focused. “We are in this together,” Nancy says. “We share each other’s goals and visions, and we have each other’s backs.”
Author: Bonny Osterhag
Photographer: Janet Rogers