How to successfully work with a loved one

Eva Mackevic

Relationships can be hard work; they take lots of patience, kindness—even discipline and self-restraint. But can you imagine running a business with your other half too? For these three couples, the professional is very personal indeed

Louise and Paul Parker, 42 and 37

The Louise Parker Method

Louise and Paul with their daughters Sophie, Milly and CoCo. “The girls are at the heart of what we do”

“We met at Heathrow, Terminal 4, baggage reclaim seven. We were both on a flight back from Hong Kong. My bags came, I walked away and someone tapped me on the shoulder, gave me their business card and said, ‘I think you’ve forgotten something.’ ” Paul smiles as he recalls the first time he met Louise.

“He was actually checking me out for quite a long time. He denies it to this day. He was a blithering idiot,” she laughs.

Paul and Louise are the wise-cracking couple behind The Louise Parker Method—a successful fitness enterprise founded by Louise in 2007. Over the years, her weight-loss programme has attracted a number of high-profile clients, including Hollywood actors and royalty.

“I was a freelance personal trainer for around 14 years and then I set up the business,” she says. “About five years in, things were really picking up and the team was a decent size, but I was still doing everything: coaching, marketing, accounts. I was on my knees and I needed to hire a CEO.”

That’s when Paul stepped in. Working for a corporate company in the City at the time, he was on a successful career path of his own, so the decision wasn’t an easy one to make. “I thought he’d say, ‘I thought you’d never ask,’ and crack open a bottle of champagne, but he looked very sceptical and he thought about it for six months,” admits Louise.

Paul, who’s now been with the company for seven years, concedes, “You wore me down. I just came down to breakfast one day and said, ‘Right, I’m going to quit today.’ ” “The first year was really hard. And it’s still hard. But if one of you is struggling, the other one is a bit more upbeat and you can help each other out,” says Louise. On a day-to-day basis, she looks after coaching, the brand and PR, while Paul takes care of operations—a clear divide between the roles is essential, according to the couple. “You have to know what your different roles are and have your own territories. Paul does all the operations, it’s hugely complicated. It’s a skill set that I don’t have but when it comes down to signing forms and contracts, both of you need to be involved. Because if something goes wrong, it can’t be like, ‘Why did you sign that?’”

"If one of you is struggling, the other one is a bit more upbeat and you can help each other out"

It’s important to complement each other on a personal level as well as is professionally. Louise says, “I needed someone sensible. If something needs to get done, Paul gets it done. Now, I can’t say my favourite thing about my husband is he opens all the mail,” she bursts out laughing. “But if it were left to me, our electricity would be cut off. I operate in a little creative whirlwind of chaos and Paul helps to bring some order and structure into that.”

Paul, on the other hand, admires his wife’s sense of humour. “She makes me laugh like nobody else. The thing I admire about Lou is how she engages with people. We were at a wedding recently, and there were loads of people we didn’t know—that’s my worst fear. But Louise just went in, had a chat, and five minutes later it’s like, ‘These are my new best friends.’ How do you do that?!” he laughs.

Any free time the couple have is spent with their daughters Sophie, Milly and CoCo. “The girls are at the heart of what we do. So the quality time we spend as a couple is when the kids have gone to bed and we just sit and watch Doctor Foster and switch off. That’s bliss,” says Paul.

 

Sarah and Justin Savage, both 60

Savages Personal Management

Sarah and Justin run a small but personal theatre management agency in West London. Justin used to manage a number of big theatre companies and produce West End shows, while Sarah has been a director, actor and script editor.

“Creating our business was a way to make a living and have an interesting life. We wanted a business where we could see each other and stay at home. This was the perfect solution—to run an agency and develop other people’s careers,” says Sarah.

This mellow, happy couple met on the internet in August 2013. “We just had a cup of coffee and it was great! We got on immediately,” says Justin. They got married two years later and decided to start a business together. After toying with the idea of opening up a boutique hotel, they realised it made sense to do something in an area in which they both have experience. They decided to set up a theatre agency instead—but not without testing the waters first.

“In order to work out whether we could work together, we produced a little show in a 15-seat theatre above a pub. And it was very clear that it was OK. I can honestly say I work better with Sarah than anyone I’ve ever worked with,” admits Justin, prompting Sarah to giggle. “Darling,” she touches his hand, amused. The agency was a success from the get-go, as the phone started ringing as soon as the couple made an announcement about their new venture. “We get about four applications a day on average— and it just builds,” they say.

"It’s important what we do—entertainment is a human need, it’s like food"

In between dealing with new actors, there are castings, auditions and fee negotiations to handle—it’s an intense business. “Our days are usually 12 hours long. We dial it down at the weekends—otherwise, we’d just collapse,” says Sarah. They divide the roles between front end and back end; Sarah takes on generating most of the business (“I do the fun stuff”), and Justin looks after invoicing, tax returns and payroll. “He knows the importance of being clear and having things organised. We have complementary skills,” says Sarah.

“It’s important what we do. Entertainment is like food. It’s a human need. And that’s really exciting,” says Justin. But how do they juggle this strenuous schedule with their personal relationship? “He just looks after me and I look after him. Justin can tell if I’m flagging a bit, and he’ll say, ‘Come on, we need to go for a walk,’ ” shares Sarah.

And if they ever need some time off from each other, they always have their own hobbies to turn to. Says Justin, “We spend time apart as an anticipatory thing. I have a lovely 1965 Land Rover and I’m happy to go and just lose myself tinkering with it.” Sarah adds, “And we’ve got our own families, you know? I’ve got two sons, three grandsons, and I’m about to have a fourth grandchild in a month’s time. And Justin has a 20-year-old son, so our lives are pretty full.”

What’s the most important thing they’ve learned from working together as a couple? “You’ve got to be honest about what your strengths are and if you do something wrong—say so, put your hand up, because it won’t work if you’re overprotective. There’s no place for pride or ego.”

 

Dulcie and Jonny Crickmore, 35 and 37

Fen Farm Dairy

Jonny and Dulcie are the young, enthusiastic couple running the Fen Farm Dairy in the beautiful town of Bungay, Suffolk. They share a passion for food, travel and all things dairy. “We both wanted to make milk cool because it’s so boring when you look at it on a shelf,” explains Jonny.

Old meets new at their homey farm: a tight-knit family business run by Jonny’s family since the 1950s, with a fresh outlook on dairy products and a whimsical approach to branding—their milk bottles come with luggage tags and funky designs, and you can fill them from the UK’s first raw milk vending machine.

Jonny and Dulcie met in 2004 in a local pub. “We bumped into each other at The Green Dragon one night. We were set up a little bit by our friends. They got us an isolated table, left us there and sat in the other room. Not awkward at all!” laughs Dulcie. “We went to the cinema the next night to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And the rest is history.”

"We actually had the work laptop on the bed when our son Arthur was born"

Dulcie recalls how, four years ago, Jonny was beginning to feel a bit restless at work, so he decided to start a new chapter by venturing into cheese-making. She says, “I was a costume-maker for theatre and film at the time, but as our second child came along, I decided to shelve what I was doing and concentrate on kids and the cheese business.”

Jonny has worked on the farm ever since he was little

The result—a wonderfully creamy Brie—turned out to be a huge success. With the demand from wholesalers growing rapidly, the couple are constantly busy developing the brand and improving their products. “It gets a bit consuming, the work. Whenever we get together, every car journey, every meal—we just talk about cheese. We actually had the laptop on the hospital bed when Arthur was born—I still haven’t forgiven Jonny for that,” Dulcie laughs.

“I suppose the main danger of working together is that you spend several years talking about work and, suddenly, it occurs to you that it’s a been a while since you’ve had anything else in common apart from the kids,” Jonny elaborates.

The couple do their best to avoid falling into that trap. Jonny confesses: “We’re conscious of it and try to make a point of not talking about work at certain times of the week. And it’s still hard, especially when you’ve got phone calls and emails coming through on the weekend.” When they’re not working, the couple go to the seaside to blow away the cobwebs, however “irritable, grumpy or stressed with work” they might be. They bring their kids, Ottilie and Arthur, along and go for long walks or hike up mountains.

With their children, Arthur and Ottilie

Despite the hurdles of juggling work and marriage, Jonny and Dulcie enjoy working together. “Although it can be easy to lose a sense of what your relationship was before you started working together, it’s also nice to have a sense of common purpose, I think,” says Dulcie. “Also, we get to take the kids on business trips abroad or around the country. We go as a family and even though we might be still working, we’re kind of ‘fun-working’. It’s nice taking your partner with you to work,” adds Jonny.

“Our favourite time was when we went to Wales and we were up a mountain with no phone signal for six hours—it was lovely,” they laugh.