Sweetheart Deal: Sharing the Workplace with Your Spouse

David Cauley and his wife Kimberly Green Cauley run The Cauley Firm. The family connection will grow when his brother joins the firm this month. // Photo by Ron Dubick

 

by Kathy Canavan

Kimberly Green-Cauley’s last job interview was a piece of cake. It wasn’t just because she had 10 years of marketing experience. It helped that she had been married to her interviewer for more than a decade.

“He knew he was getting a steal. I did more asking of the questions than he did,” Green-Cauley said of her interview for her husband’s boutique law firm in Wilmington.

Cleon Cauley, her attorney-husband, concurred: “She’s strong in everything I hope to one day be strong in,” he said.

Unlike HGTV’s Tarek and Christina, who famously filed for divorce in the middle of their hit show “Flip or Flop,” local couples who work together say they are rarely at each other’s throats.

They say they love working together — but some assembly is required.

Daniel and Marryanne Ramirez, Air Force veterans, run several Papa John’s.

Marryann Ramirez said she felt like she unleashed a monster when she said yes to her husband Daniel’s pitch to buy their first Papa John’s in Camden in 2011. They owned five at press time, and they’re in the process of buying two more. Lately, they’ve been averaging one a year.

“He took me on a business dinner date to tell me what he wanted to do. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? We have kids who haven’t graduated yet. You want to do what?’ ” she said.

Carol Arnott-Robbins and Tucker Robbins at their Greenville real estate office. She joined his firm after 26 years in the banking industry.

He kept buying them. “I’m like, ‘Oh, God. No! No!’ ’’ she said. “Oh, my God. Every time he’s done a new project it’s like ‘How am I going to make this work?’ This time around I’m really screaming. It’s very, very scary.”

Carol Arnott-Robbins joined her husband Tucker Robbins’ Greenville real estate sales team in 2015, after 26 years as a banker.

“I honestly never thought it would be so hard,” she said. “It was very difficult the first month because I was challenging everything about the way he does business. I wasn’t saying it’s bad or wrong. I was just saying, ‘Why this? Why not that?’ ’’

Maryalice St. Clair is vice president of business development at Halosil International, the maker of environmentally friendly disinfecting biocides in Newark, where her husband David is the executive chairman. They work about 15 feet apart. He jokes that he’s been screamed at more since his wife came aboard than he ever had been in his past positions.

Maryalice St. Clair is vice president of business development at Halosil International, where her husband Daivd is the executive chairman. // Photo by Ron Dubick

She allows she sometimes oversteps: “When you go home, you have to say honestly, ‘Would I have done this if I had not been married to this guy?’ And then you have to say no. And, sometimes, you have to apologize and say you’re sorry for your bad unprofessional behavior in the workplace.”

Jim and Kim Provo of Wilmington probably spend about five hours a week working together at their new My Salon Suite franchise on Kirkwood Highway. That will ramp up soon because they’re negotiating a lease for a second shop in Dover and searching for a third site on Concord Pike — and they both have day jobs.

“Respecting each other and trusting each other is the most important part. You realize, hey, we’re both going to make mistakes,” he said.

Then, laughing, he added: “Of course, I’m saying that to cover my ass with her when I make a bad decision.”

Constructing a My Salon Suite can top $775,000 and a single Papa John’s restaurant can come with a price tag of $250,000 to $600,000. When the heartstrings and purse strings are inter-twined, numbers like that can be daunting for at least one member of a couple.

Daniel Ramirez doesn’t like to upset his wife Marryann. “The first time I set eyes on her, I knew she was the one,” he said. “I love spending time with her.”

So, he doesn’t always tell her when he buys a new store.

And, when they disagree, he moves ahead anyway: “I just put my foot down and say, ‘We’re going to do it.’ Because, if I had listened to her, we wouldn’t have any stores. She knows that I’m a hard worker. She knows I’ll make it work.”

Kimberly Green-Cauley said she and her husband are opposites who perfectly balance each other out. “I am very much a Myers-Briggs introvert: “I am very detailed, almost to like O.C.D. He is very big-picture extroverted. It actually works in our favor.

“His favorite expression to me is ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we get there’ and I’m like, ‘Noooo. We need to know before the bridge comes up,’ ’’ she said.

“They say you should always be hiring in the modes that complement you,” Cleon Cauley said. “I’m more of a big-picture, where are we going, everything’s positive. She more of a what-are-our-action-items- today. She keeps me grounded.”

They know each other so well that they hardly ever disagree, she said. And, as he put it, “It works because we’re the best of friends … We know our goals are aligned.”

Thinking of starting a business with your Valentine? All the couples warned of just one glitch:

Don’t let “client” and “callback” become household words.

Don’t slip into business mode after hours, Tucker Robbins advises: “It starts with, ‘Did you ever get a call from so-and-so?’ That launches into a five-minute business conversation that ends with, ‘Well, we’re not talking business.’ ”

Kimberly Green-Cauley admits she has a hard time turning it off: “It’s hard for Cleon because he has to constantly remind me that work is separate. We’ll be sitting on the couch watching a movie and I want to talk about a client. I’m a planner. I want to make sure all the Ts are crossed. It’s not that things ever fall through the cracks. It’s that I worry about it so they don’t.”

“If something’s not going well, you have to know when to turn it off,” Maryalice St. Clair said. “You have to say, ‘We’re not going to talk about work.’”

As Jim Provo put it, “You have to just try to encapsulate it so it’s not 24 hours a day, so it’s a job that ends and it’s not the only thing that you talk about.”

Far from making their marriages rocky, couples say working together makes them better.

“It’s probably made it stronger — working together and not wanting it to fail,” Daniel Ramirez said.

“There is a level of trust that I think helps,” Maryalice St. Clair said. “David, if I’m having a particularly bad time for one reason or another, is always there to pick me up, and I’d like to think that, sometimes, the opposite is true.”

Their other tip: Communicate.

“Whether you’re working with your spouse or anyone else, if you want to be successful, communication is key,” Daniel Ramirez said.

The Valentine’s Day takeaway? The person at your breakfast table could be partner material.

“Carol brings in fresh perspectives, fresh interests, fresh people to do business with. It’s just a win-win-win all the way around,” Tucker Robbins said. “She’s such a natural in this business that she really should have done this 20 years ago.

“I have extraordinary taste in women. There’s no question about it,” Robbins said. “I waited until I was 55 to get married for the first time, and she was worth the wait.”

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