I know Steven Petroff of IQ Partners as one of the city’s top recruiters. I recently found out that Steve and his wife Sara were the team behind the Petroff Gallery until they sold it in 2012. How did they manage to sustain both a happy marriage and a profitable business partnership for over 19 years, all the while raising two sons?
I had to find out more so I asked Steven to tell me how he and his wife did it. Here is what I learned:
Steven and Sara were able to be an effective team because they had different skills and each played to their strengths. Steven looked after finance, operations, and HR, giving Sara the freedom to develop her creative vision. She handled everything related to art – developing relationships with artists, selecting pieces and designing displays.
Steven and Sara trusted each other and supported each other’s decisions. On paper they were 50/50 partners. In practice, Steve deferred to Sara’s judgment on questions of art and Sara let Steven take care of business operations. Sure – there were times when each disagreed with something the other had done. No two business partners, however close, are always going to agree about everything. And we all make decisions that we later think the better of. But Steve and Sara respected each other, and they didn’t let small disagreements undermine their working relationship.
Because of their mutual respect, Steve and Sara were able to learn from one another. Steven gained a greater appreciation of art and design. Sara became a more savvy business person.
Steve thoroughly enjoyed the years he and Sara spent running the gallery. But there are disadvantages to being in a business partnership with your spouse. For one thing, it means that the entire household income is coming from a single source. That can be stressful if the business suffers a downturn.
It is also much harder to “leave stuff at the office.” Any tensions in the business – due to suppliers, customers, staff – would invade their time away from the business. Many business owners report that it is hard to get away from work. It is that much harder when you’re working with someone with whom you share a home and a family. Steven told me that it could be “overwhelming” at times. He also told me that he knows of some couples in business together who protect their private time by setting rules about when it is OK to talk about business. While he and Sara never did this, Steven said that he could see why it might be a good idea for some.
Finally, I asked Steven if he had any advice for other couples in business partnerships. He said: Think it through carefully. He and Sara had a great experience, but the intensity of a business partnership combined with a marriage and co-parenting isn’t for everyone.
(You can find more resources for business partnerships at businesspartnershipsuccess.ca Check out my previous posts: Can This Partnership be Saved? (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and Breaking up a Business Partnership Doesn’t Have to be a Trial.)
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