What's it like to share a business with your spouse? Personal finance experts and media personalities Ken and Daria Dolan know better than most. The two, once dubbed the "Fred and Ginger of the airwaves," have been married 28 years and have worked together for more than 12. But to the outside world, the Dolans' dance of love and work looks exhausting. How do these two people maintain a healthy marriage while simultaneously doing a daily radio show, writing books, lecturing, and appearing on television together? Over the years, the Dolans' entrepreneurial empire has at various times also included a newsletter, a cable television show on CNBC, a monthly column in Money magazine, and regular appearances on the CBS program This Morning. Inc.com caught up with Ken and Daria Dolan to talk about what has kept them together personally and professionally, what lies ahead for their company, and how to be in love and in business at the same time.
inc.com:Many couples are intrigued by the possibility of working together. What would you say have been the greatest benefits and drawbacks to the arrangement?
Daria: The biggest benefit is after a particularly harried day ... you don't have to come home to your significant other to answer, "How was your day?"
Ken: The downside is that it would be nice to have someone else to talk to. If you are in a two- or three-person company, and you are two of the three, then there's really no one else. ... There are only two of us. I have enormous respect for Daria's ability, but I don't think it would hurt to get other ideas. We have contacts and friends we can turn to whom we respect. Running a business takes all the input and creativity you can get.
Daria: We have to be realists. Ken and I aren't all sweetness and light around each other 24 hours a day. There are times, from my perspective, when Ken says, "I am the person who started this thing, and I have decided..." I have to step in and say, "'I have decided?' I don't think so." If we had to go back to square one again, it would be to put together a shareholders' agreement about what has to be unanimously decided on and which responsibilities are whose. We have taken on all of the responsibilities as "ours." The friction comes when he thinks our responsibilities are his.
inc.com:Because you two work and live together so closely, isn't there a risk of getting too isolated from others' opinions? Couldn't that have a bad effect on your business?
Ken: It is a challenge. The good news can be the bad news. We trust each other so implicitly. Daria's opinion is the most important in the world to me, emotionally and professionally. If Daria says, "I think it is a stupid idea," it probably is. ... I am the dreamer ... and she is very much the day-to-day pragmatist. The bottom line is that a lot of what Daria says on an idea or concept I will pretty much take. ... We are emotionally tied and self-contained, sort of our own board of directors. That is not to say we don't have friends, lawyers, and agents to turn to.
inc.com:Couples may try a business together briefly but may not be able to make it work. What has been the key to your success in this area?
Daria: First off, I see nothing wrong with a couple saying, "Let's try this for a year and see how it works." Maybe a year is all it is worth. ... What is the worst that can happen?
Ken: Daria is right. Don't make this a decision of your lifetime. You may think you will work well together and don't. A lot of people say they could never work with their spouse, then they try it and love it. ... It may be the best or worst thing. If it is the worst, for the sake of your marriage, give it up. I believe, though, that if you have a great marriage, based on mutual respect, trust, and humor, then that can translate into a great business.
Daria: If you are lukewarm on what your business is, don't do it. You have to love it. It has to be the type of situation where you can't imagine doing anything else. ... If you both don't feel that way about the business, the business or the relationship will suffer. No one should enter into a couple's business with the idea that "She wants me to" or "He wants me to" or "He can't afford to hire anyone else." That will never work. It has to be a mutually shared vision in a mutually loved area.