The Art of Mixing Marriage & Business
In honor of Valentine’s Day, the February issue of our sister publication, Spacecoast Business, celebrates couples who love to work together. Read how six of Brevard’s duos make it “work” at home and in the office, and find straightforward advice on working together.
It’s a Family Affair
Nelson and Karen Green enjoy spending time together and they enjoy working together.
Good thing, too because in 31 years of marriage, and running Flooring America, they’ve probably spent more time together than most couples . . . and they’re still going strong.
“Most married couples can’t work together,” Nelson Green said. “Most people can’t be together 24 hours a day. But we had a common background and a common interest, so we had something to talk about at night.”
They met in Rome, Ga. where Nelson was working in advertising and marketing at a carpet mill. Karen was a carpet designer. When they moved to Florida in 1979, they opened their own business in old Eau Gallie with Nelson’s brother, Ken.
Karen would take care of the office side of the business; Nelson was in charge of buying, advertising, selling and making the big decisions. “Even if you’re 50-50 in a marriage, you can’t be 50-50 in a business,” Karen Green said. “Somebody has to make the final decisions on things. I step back and present what I think we should do, but Nelson ultimately has to make that decision.”
Since then, the Green family has gotten even more involved in the business. Their oldest son, Chris, is the sales manager and youngest son, Zach, is the No. 1 salesman. Even granddaughter, Hayley, makes commercials with Karen.
Nelson’s brother, Ken, is still with the company. So is his sister, Jo. Even Nelson’s mom worked there briefly.
Working with so many family members in a business can be a challenge. “There’s a family dynamic, and a business dynamic … and you have to separate the two,” Nelson explained. “When we’re talking about business and we’re talking about things that need to be done, you try to leave the 40 years of relational experience you have with each other out of it.”
Karen stopped working five years ago, but still meets her husband for lunch every day, so they can spend time together. She also appears as the company’s spokesperson in their television advertisements.
Looking at his wife, Nelson offered up with what he believes is the key to making both a business and a marriage last: “Make each other laugh … and marry your best friend.”
A Showcase Relationship
Peter and Kateri Genna Make Business, Marriage Sparkle
It’s a story Peter and Kateri Genna can chuckle about now when they tell their friends.
“We always laugh because when we first bought the store, I had these beautiful flower arrangements done,” Kateri Genna explained. “We didn’t have a lot of inventory, so I put out a beautiful flower arrangement, and then just a little bit of jewelry because we didn’t have that much.”
That was 1994. As the months and years passed, business in Palm Bay picked up and Genna Jewelers can now offer customers a wide variety of gems from some of the top designers in the world – Bellarri, A. Jaffe, Roberto Coin, Pandora, Jeff Cooper and Hearts on Fire, to name a few.
Throughout the years, the Gennas have also maintained a personal presence at the store. Peter is a fourth generation jeweler (both of his great grandfathers were jewelers in Italy), while Kateri has a business background and manages the store while also handling the bookkeeping.
While it’s not uncommon for couples to work together in the jewelry business, the Gennas have survived because as the business has grown, they have worked to grow their relationship. They see their 23 years of marriage as a solid foundation to build on – a bond they cultivate by eating lunch together every day and sharing an appreciation for each other’s interests, such as football (he’s a Dolphins fan), classic cars and other activities they enjoy doing together.
“I’ve heard of couples having a hard time balancing work life and their personal life,” Peter observed. “I think what we’re able to do is not take the work home with us. The reason for that is simple, we have so many interests that are outside of work, such as tennis, yoga, working out, and skiing.”
The Gennas also have a common desire to contribute back to the community. They help out local charities, including The Haven, Club Esteem, the Women’s Center and local schools. They are also one of the sponsors for the MIMA Foundation USTA Pro Tennis Classic held at the Kiwi Tennis Club in Indian Harbour Beach.
With their floral arrangement days long behind them, the Gennas have built their business into something their entire family can be proud of.
… Off and Running!
They met while running a half marathon . . . the 2005 Monson Memorial Classic Half Marathon in Monson, Mass. to be exact. He asked her out several times to no avail. Then he got smart, he asked her to go for a run.
Turns out, a love of running wasn’t the only thing that Chris and Amy Prouty had in common. They were both creative, driven, goal-oriented people. He was a freelance web and graphic designer. Her parents had built Ludlow Printing into one of the biggest print shops in Massachusetts.
Talk about a perfect marriage. The business part, too.
Studio99Creative hit the ground running upon incorporation in 2006 and hasn’t really stopped since. Their backgrounds were a big help in making that happen, everything from web and graphic design to print production, content management, logos, photography and more.
“We had already been networking, so people knew us and knew what we could deliver, and they were excited to work with us early on,” Amy Prouty shared. “It started up fast. We loved what we did; people started coming on and it just worked (perfectly).”
Two years ago, they moved from Ludlow, Mass. to the Space Coast, where they had been splitting their time to see family. They already were developing clients here and besides, they liked the climate. Their daughter recently turned 1.
That 2005 Monson Memorial Half Marathon was some race. Amy and Chris have been running everywhere together ever since. “If I hadn’t met Amy … I’d still just be this freelance web designer,” Chris said. “I think it’s the couple, the way the couple works together. We both have a vision of where we want to go and what we want to do.”
Too Sweet to Resist
Grimaldi’s Candies Lures Couple from Retirement
After 24 years of growing a successful printing company from scratch, Phil and Jamie Holtje decided to move from Wisconsin to Florida and retire.
Eight months later, the couple was back in business. On June 1, 2009, they became the owners of Grimaldi’s Candies, with locations in Rockledge and Melbourne.
Not only is the product different, it smells a lot better, too!
“One of the biggest differences I see is that this business is a lot more fun than printing,” Phil Holtje said. “This is about interaction with people; it’s a fun product and people come in the store liking what they’re going to buy. Therefore this is a happier business.”
The Holtjes started Burlington Graphics Systems, Inc. in the workshop behind their house in Racine, Wis. in 1984 and turned it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Through so many years of working together, Jamie said she and Phil “kind of have it figured out” when it comes to sharing duties in running a business. However, since moving to Florida, there has been a slight tweak.
Phil and Jamie have also taken on the role of mentors to their daughter Celeste, and their son-in-law Will Ralston, who serves as the general manager and has a background in food services.
Another daughter, Melissa, also works part-time with the company. Her husband, Daniel Richeson, is in charge of the Viera Water Network, a charity started by the Holtjes to drill and repair fresh water wells in under-developed countries. Because they have other income, the Holtjes donate their profits from Grimaldi’s Candies to charity.
Though one business mantra is to stick with what you know, the Holtjes have enjoyed learning something new. The switch to candy wasn’t planned, but ultimately, something they couldn’t resist. “There were a lot of factors that went into it,” Jamie explained. “A family business is always kind of fun. The candy business sounded fun.”
They Who Play (and Work) Together . . . Stay Together
La Cita Country Club’s Jim and Katherine Musick
It is often said that the couple that plays together stays together. However, for a growing number of businesses, it is equally true that the couple that works together stays together. Among them are Jim and Katherine Musick, who took over co-ownership of La Cita Golf and Country Club in Titusville in 2001.
Owner/General Manager and Catering Director, respectively, Jim and Katherine co-own and manage La Cita Country Club with Dale and Leslie Quinn and Karen Senn. La Cita is the only completely private country club in the Titusville area. It features an 18-hole championship golf course, six Har-Tru tennis courts, a heated pool, a spa with a fitness center, a clubhouse and lodging.
“We like to think we are quite an asset to the community,” adds Katherine.
Jim and Katherine have worked tirelessly to develop La Cita into the club it is today. They have continued to handle the club’s daily business and remained active participants at the club’s social events. But how have they successfully maintained their business and personal lives when they literally work side-by-side?
“We do not carry this club home with us,” explains Jim. Both Musicks emphasize the importance of separating the business and the personal aspects of their relationship.
“Find a balance before [you go into business together],” stresses Katherine. “Know your role about what you contribute to the business….it definitely does not work for everybody.”
It also helps that both Jim and Katherine love what they do. Owning the club has been the realization of a lifelong dream for Jim. Katherine’s background in catering has made her an asset to the club’s event coordination and catering services.
They may stay busy with all of the different aspects of running the country club, but as Jim says: “We have a lot of great members in this club, and we have made friends with many of them. [The club] is a big part of our social life.”
For the Musicks, La Cita Country Club is equal parts business and pleasure. In their case, it is more accurate to say that “the couple that plays and works together . . . stays together.”
Titusville’s HME Providers is a Family Affair
Second Generation Joins Parents
Founded 26 years ago in Titusville, HME Providers is a member services organization (MSO) for a nationwide network of home medical suppliers. As Chairman of the Board and Office Manager for HME Providers, Inc., Michael and Deborah are responsible for leading a multimillion dollar company.
The stress factors associated with leading a global business present an additional challenge to the already difficult situation of managing and leading with one’s spouse. Michael and Deborah have found a way to diffuse the stress, though, and offer advice to other couples that are in business together.
“The marriage has blossomed over the years because we have so much in common and so much to talk about,” says Deborah. “Even when Mike and I travel to Asia and the flight is so long we never experience a dull moment. I am just as interested in his success with his negotiations as he is mine.”
Of their own business practices, Michael adds, “Each person has separate positions within the company and they never answer to each other.”
For the Sowards, this means communicating with their children, who are also leaders within the company. Aron Sowards, their eldest daughter, is President of HME Providers, Inc. Bryan, their middle child, is CEO of HME Providers’ sister company, Infopia USA, and his wife Amy is the Investor Relations Manager. Troy, their youngest, is the International Product Development Manager and his wife Jennifer is the Chief Operations Officer/COO.
“By owning the business,” explains Deborah, “[It] entitles us to maneuver our children around until they find a place that they can excel in and that they enjoy. We didn’t force our children to work for the family business; they do it because they want to.”
Michael and Deborah have also allowed their children to work their way up within the company.
As Troy explains: “I have been working for my dad’s businesses almost my whole life . . . since I was 13 working in the warehouse. I went away for college, then came back and took on a sales position within the company. I have since had various positions learning the ins and outs of the company and have found my strengths to be in developing new products.”
His wife Jennifer adds, “One thing most people don’t realize about running a family-owned business is it takes a lot of supporting each other’s ideas, appreciating individual strengths and finding a way to work through obstacles as a team.”