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Copreneurs: Coupling Business With Pleasure


Successful businesses backed by marriage.

Sleeping with your business partner sounds like a scandalous prospect, but it could be a thrilling adventure if that person is your spouse and that business is one you've started together. Some couples have failed to make it work, but others find comfort in sharing a business with the person they trust most.

"My wife and I have found over the last 35 years that we enjoy working with each other more than all the other people we had ever worked with," says Jeffrey McIntyre, president of business coaching and consulting firm Enlignment, which he runs with his wife, Dr. Nancy Miriam Hawley.

Massachusetts-based McIntyre and Hawley have made it work by constantly revising their roles in both the company and the marriage, which McIntyre says can take an infinite amount of patience.

The duo has enjoyed their work together so much that they set out to find out why other couples decide to start businesses together. Their book about relationships and business Seven Conversations That Matter is set to hit stores in the spring of 2010.

While consulting and publishing seem to be businesses that attract couples (just look at Jack and Suzy Welch), almost any business can lend itself to that ultimate partnership. Major corporations like Internet technology giant Cisco (CSCO) and cosmetics empire Estee Lauder (EL) both began as husband-and-wife ventures.

If you've ever considered taking this adventure with your spouse, now could be the perfect time. Dr. Becky Stewart-Gross, who runs the leadership and consulting firm Building Bridges with her husband, Dr. Mike Gross, speculates that the current downsizing of major corporations and the high unemployment rate have left people free to pursue dreams that they never considered before.

An Internet business, catering company, or real estate venture are a few businesses that can be run out of the home and often thrive when managed by copreneurs.

Yet, starting a business takes more than a dream, especially if the consequences of failure extend beyond the boardroom and into the bedroom.

Stewart-Gross says these partnerships aren't suited to newlyweds and should only be undertaken by a couple with strong communication skills. She also recommends one partner stay in their current job while the couple tries to get the business off the ground because financial constraints can be more daunting than anticipated.

When Kate and Andy Spade decided to pursue their dream, she left her job as a fashion accessories editor at Mademoiselle magazine while he continued in his position as an advertising executive. Her knack for simple, timeless designs and his marketing know-how paid off -- the eponymous brand garnered a price tag of $124 million when it was sold to Liz Claiborne (LIZ) in 2007.

Not all these match-ups will have a fairytale ending of a multi-million dollar buyout. So it's important to have an exit strategy before you begin.

Unlike other businesses, a couple-run company can be disastrously affected if one member of the couple falls ill or dies, or worse, the marriage splits up. Plenty of companies have fallen to the wayside when marital strife takes over. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's film production company, Plan B Entertainment, barely made it through the celebrity couple's rocky public divorce.

So put down your BlackBerry, keep the business out of your pillow talk, and you and your spouse just might survive the copreneur challenge to face the IPO of your dreams.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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