Op-ed: Balance Is Key When You Work With Your Partner

In any business or personal relationship, maintaining balance and perspective is a fundamental key to success — just ask this successful couple.

BY Jim Burba and Bob Hayes

February 26 2013 8:00 AM ET

Jim Burba and Bob Hayes

We have a great life partnership, and we have a successful business together – two fantastic "marriages." How do we optimize these simultaneous relationships without killing each other in the process? 

If you own your company, you know that you are married to it. If you work with your life-partner, you have added a third party to your personal relationship—the business. It is much harder to keep life balanced when the personal and professional become intertwined.

Couples who are not business partners do not have the extra weight of joined careers in their balancing act because each partner can see the other’s business life in "view-only" mode with fresh, objective eyes. Each life partner can relate, comment and sympathize about each other’s workplace, but he or she is not also living it from 9 to 5. As a result, they can help balance the work life/career of their partner,

When you are both living the same business reality, how does the personal relationship stay in balance? How do we survive being together almost 24/7?

Listed below are three (and a half) simple principles that have helped us survive and prosper:

Don’t Lose The "Me" in "We"
We believe that a business relationship, just like your personal/life relationship, should be about separate parts coming together to form a greater "we." Both of us were distinct and unique individuals to start with, and keeping our own identity has been important.  

We make sure we have "me-time." To us this means we still have our outside interests and they are an important priority. Bob is still passionate about art and design; Jim loves sports and travel. We make time for these personal interests.

Fortunately, our business requires some extended travel, and this provides the perfect time for some "me time" for both us. The long air travel to our events allows Jim to catch up on his reading and to travel. The quiet home time when Jim is travelling allows Bob to pursue his creative interests. Independent thought is a necessity to maintain balance in business, and being apart for short periods of time allows each of us to think as an individual.

We don’t walk alike or talk alike, and we resist thinking alike because we’re stronger as a team with our own unique perspectives. However, we do admit to dressing alike occasionally, as most same-sex couples do when each other’s clothes are the same size!  

Turn Off the Business Brain
We recognize the heightened need to have a life outside of the business, and the need to make it happen. In the beginning, this is not so self-evident. A start-up company needs all the time you can give it, but once the ground work is solid, you must plan for time away from the business.

Many successful entrepreneurs and business people count their clients and customers amongst their good friends. We do too. It is a natural progression to combine the professional relationship with a personal one, if the chemistry and desire is there.  Now, we love our partners and customers, but we limit social interaction with them. We need down-time away from work related conversations—to turn off the business brain.

We purposely cultivate friends and interests outside the business, and we lead a very active social life together. Over the years we have been active with various LGBT organizations, like Human Rights Campaign, Desert AIDS Project/Palm Springs, The Center Orange County, to name a few. We also have cultivated other outside interests as individuals. For example, Bob is a trustee of the Laguna Art Museum in our home town, and Jim is a commissioner on the California Travel and Tourism Commission, representing Orange County. These activities are fun ways for us turn off the business, and they remind us that there is a life away from the office.

How do we get away from the business on a more practical, daily basis? We came up with a simple solution that we call our 7/7 rule. There is to be no talking about work before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. Candidly, we sometimes break the rule if both of us agree. However, if it is before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m., and one of us is reading the morning paper or has had enough business for the day, the invoking party simply says “7/7.”  The work conversation stops—period.

This is important. We have learned that we must regularly turn off the business brain, and we must make it a priority.

Balance Your Skills and The Business Needs
When we entered into business together, we had a reasonably good understanding of our likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.  In our last article, we talked about the DISC approach to figuring out one’s strengths and weaknesses, and its importance to building your overall business team.

We try to think of ourselves as employees of the company. Would you hire someone who couldn’t do or didn’t want to do the job? No, and neither would we. If you can’t do the task, or are not motivated to do it, perhaps it is better to find someone else who can.

We found it is critically important to be honest with ourselves and each other, rather than to let each other down. If one partner can’t fulfill his or her obligation, the other partner is going to have to carry an extra burden, which is not good for the balancing act. When you work and live together, the stakes are very high. The last thing you want is for things to get out of balance with the business and have this affect your relationship at home in a negative way.

This sounds simple, but it isn’t always so: define your roles and responsibilities. Be honest about what is working and what isn’t. And communicate continuously as life and business partners so that you can take corrective action before an imbalance occurs.

3.5  Take the Cocktail Cure
If all else fails, have a martini. It works for us. There is nothing like a well balanced martini to take the conversation away from work and on to something more relaxing and personal.

Very dry, very cold; shaken, not stirred. 

Jim is gin.  Bob is vodka.

JIM BURBA AND BOB HAYES have been partners in life and livelihood for more than 20 years. As co-founders of Burba Hotel Network, this couple has formed a power partnership that has become the worldwide leader in developing and producing conferences for the hotel and tourism investment community. Since 2000, their events have attracted more than 70,000 international delegates in 22 countries.

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