Working With Family
Working with family isn’t a new concept to Vivien Böhme, cofounder of the clothing line Böhme, which she started with her sister, Fernanda Böhme. They’ve worked together since Vivien was 10, when they cleaned buildings together with their parents from 5 p.m. to midnight.
“We could switch: either you had to stay and babysit the younger brothers or you had to go clean,” Vivien said. “It was drudgery. We did it for years. But now we have this hunger and we’re both natural workaholics.”She has financially supported her parents since she was 16 years old.
Working With A Sister
Today, it’s fulfilling to see how a successful family business that she and Fernanda created could benefit a large part of their family. But a unique set of challenges come from working with someone you’ve known your entire life. They’re both direct communicators, for example. Their natural way of talking can sound angry to people outside of the family.
“We’ll argue like cats and dogs but we move over quickly,” she said. “Problems don’t linger.” You’ll always encounter problems when you work with family, she says. It’s working through those problems, rather than avoiding them, that matters.
Understanding one another’s role is also important. Vivien said the Brazilian sisters’ skills complement each other ―she handles the numbers side of things and her sister the creative.
“When we come together with our skillsets it’s magic – few people locally can beat us at that and, actually, nobody can,” Vivien said laughing. “Not in women’s retail.”
Vivien said a family business partnership is like marriage: neither are ever 50/50. One person will always be pulling more than the other or working more hours than you worked. “When you have a truly good partnership, you should be able to complement each other,” Vivien said. “That should be happening.”
She’s learned you don’t just go into business with a family members― you also go into business with their spouse. “So many spouses don’t believe, or they’re afraid,” Vivien said. “And it wreaks havoc in the business. Really, there are far more people involved than you think. So, the spouses both better be all in.”
Working with a spouse
That’s something that CEO, Ali Hynek, also understands. While she worked with her mother and brother in the earlier days of her company, she now works most closely with her husband, Jeremy, at their family-owned business, Nena & Co. A company that preserves Guatemalan heritage through woven purses.
“It’s harder to work with your spouse than your parents,” she said laughing.
She recommends writing clear expectations on legal documents about who does what in the company. Ms. Hynek said contracts help people remain friends or family members.
“People stop being married because of money and business,” Ms. Hynek said. “And they stop being friends. So it’s a smart decision to have contracts. In the end, it’s just business and it’s just money. And your relationships are more important than that if it’s someone you love.”
Ms. Hynek mentions that the hardest part of working with a family member is transitioning successfully from business life to family life at the end of a work day. While they show professionalism with each other in the office so their employees know they respect the partnership, they can come home at the end of a long day and – like couples everywhere – bring the work challenges home.
“When you have a hard day, it ends up being a hard night,” Ms. Hynek said. “So it’s hard to separate the two.”
They’ve set up rules: when they’re home with their kids, they don’t talk work or get on their phones until the kids go to bed. Otherwise, they’d never stop talking about work. Making evenings deliberately separate from work time helps them be more present when it’s family time. Ms. Hynek also said it’s wise for couples who work together to find a family counselor that can help navigate those two worlds together.
But one of the best things about her work is that she’s grown closer to her family because of their business. “We don’t want to just get by and make it through the day,” Ms. Hynek said. “We’re in such an amazing time in our lives. We’ve made the decision that we want to enjoy it and not just get through it. We’re making sure we’re happy together and being good to each other.”