Advisers working with their Valentines

Isn't every day Valentine's Day when you work with your spouse?

Feb 13, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship can probably attest to a host of benefits, challenges, pros and cons.

Add to that the reality of working together and suddenly every day is Valentine's Day — or not.

Dave Yeske, managing director at Yeske Buie, said in the 10 years since merging advisory firms with his wife, Elissa Buie, the business benefited from a "shared philosophy about financial planning."

But back in 2008, there was much anxiety over the idea of combining their separate firms and working side by side full-time.

"We had assumed we'd never merge our businesses, because we thought we'd kill each other," Mr. Yeske said. "We were afraid with two alphas in the same business there would be fireworks."

The turning point came when a friend pointed out what the reluctance to merge businesses might be saying about their relationship. It turns out, the biggest downside to merging the businesses was that the couple never stops talking about financial planning.

Lauren Stansell, the couple's eldest daughter, recalls family road trips with mom and dad talking "non-stop about the profession, the business, and their clients."

Most of the discussions must have been positive, though, since Ms. Stansell is now a financial planner in her parents' San Francisco office.

The couple's success with their marriage and Yeske Buie, which has $750 million under management, lies in recognizing each partner's strengths and establishing clear boundaries, Mr. Yeske said.

"While we have a shared philosophy about financial planning, we have non-overlapping sets of skills and interests," he said. "I like mentoring the planning team, working on investments, and business development, and Elissa likes strategic planning, negotiating with vendors, and top-level running of the company."

Trust factor

Debbie Kagawa, chief financial officer of Capital Resources & Insurance, has been married to Richard Kagawa for 36 years, and they started working together before then.

"If you're going to have a business partner, what better partner to have than your spouse," she said. "A relationship built on trust and communication works in business as well as it does in a marriage. But you really need to have defined roles, particularly in our industry."

(More:How do financial power couples survive Valentine's Day 24/7?)

At Capital Resources & Insurance, Richard is president of the company and a representative working under the affiliated broker-dealer Signator Investors. Debbie oversees 50 reps, including her husband, on the branch side of the business.

"We are definitely partners at the top level," Ms. Kagawa said.

"We have run our business together, but separately," Mr. Kagawa said. "We have had many people tell us they could never work with their spouse. I love working with my wife. Things are not always perfect, but we seem to make it work well together."

The message from most couples who work together follows a theme of transparency, honesty and open communications, and essentially the things that make for any healthy and happy personal relationship.

But there is working together, and then there is working together.

Eric Roberge, founder of a small advisory firm known as Beyond Your Hammock, shares an office with his fiancé, Kali Hawlk, founder of the consulting firm Creative Advisor Marketing.

"We have standing desks in our office, so we are literally standing right next to each other at work," Mr. Roberge said. "The advantages are, because of our business relationships, we can have conversations about things as they pop up."

The flipside is that "the same time we're talking to each other about this stuff we're interrupting each other's day," he said.

Handling issues

Managing the personal side of the relationship at work is something Mr. Roberge said he is still learning what is best.

"When you're not working together and something personal comes up, you can go your separate ways in the morning and then revisit the conversation at night," he said. "But when you're working right next to someone, that separation doesn't happen, and it can be blatantly obvious when you have an issue with someone."

Bob Veres and Jean Sinclair have been married co-producers of Insider's Forum since 2009 when Mr. Veres pulled up stakes and relocated from North Carolina to join Ms. Sinclair in southern California.

The financial services industry veterans make it work by dividing the work and keeping things light.

The business part of the relationship works because they divide responsibilities, especially when it comes to the undertaking of their annual three-day conference, Ms. Sinclair said.

"With our conference, we have very different skill sets," she said. "He's very big picture, I'm very detail oriented."

In terms of a tip for successfully working with a spouse or partner, Ms. Sinclair said, "it's important to make it clear who has the final word in different areas of decision making."

For his part, Mr. Veres said the conversation, whether inside or outside the office, is usually about work.

"When we go wine-tasting, we separate work from non-work," he said. "Sooner or later we might end up throwing pots and pans at each other, but that hasn't happened yet."

Robb Baldwin, chief executive and founder of TradePMR, an RIA custodian firm, agrees that laying the groundwork on decision-making issues is key to success.

Mr. Baldwin has been married for four years to TradePMR's director of social media, Monica Baldwin.

"When I hear couples struggling over working together, it usually boils down to the decision-making process," Mr. Baldwin said. "Monica knows I'll take care of the business side and will continue to do it the way we've always done it, but she knows the social media side like the back of her hand, and I don't."

For individuals who would rather keep work and personal relationships separate, Ms. Sinclair, who met Mr. Veres when she subscribed to his newsletter, has a few words of advice.

"Be careful what you sign up for," she quipped.

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