Spring 2018 Issue

When I tell people that I run a consulting business with my husband, I get a wide range of reactions that range from bewilderment (“wow, what is that like?”), to disbelief (“I could never do that!”).  The fact is, a number of people either run a business with their spouse or are considering doing so. And, there are plenty of couple-founded business success stories to boot (Kate Spade, Houzz, Eventbrite and Cisco to name a few). It’s certainly unconventional, but not impossible to do; you simply have to figure out how to work together effectively. I’d like to share the story of how my husband and I founded our company, how we make it work, and how truly exhilarating it is to work together to help leaders put humanity into the change process.

Twelve years ago, my husband Shaheen and I founded our company, Pragilis. Starting a consulting business was Shaheen’s idea, and I didn’t really buy it then. I was in a stable, cushy job and I wasn’t into taking risks. What we both had, however, was an idea to change the way organizations approach the people side of change. The brutal fact is that 50-70 per cent of all change initiatives fail due to mistrust, confusion, and resistance in organizations. The old change management model was failing many leaders and organizations and we wanted to know why. So, after we studied the psychology of change, worked with and among some of the world’s largest consulting firms on change projects, and proved ourselves capable as individuals, we switched gears in our careers to help organizations achieve real change that matters to their people, customers, and leaders. We started out small and grew slowly over the first few years, and now we have a team of change strategists who work on consulting assignments with a number of notable clients in Western Canada.

People frequently ask, “how do you work with your spouse?” The truth is, we don’t really interact much at work. We have distinct roles (he leads our business development and I manage our consulting practice). He often meets with other members of the team more frequently than he meets with me. In fact, we have to schedule a weekly one-on-one to make sure we have enough time to work on the business, rather than in it. We typically devote this time to key decisions and to gauge how our business is doing. People laugh when we say this, but it’s just that busy for us.

It’s not always easy running a business with your spouse (shocking, right?). It’s terrifying to think about how both our livelihoods depend on the success of a single business. Sometimes work spills into our personal lives and we’ll debate fiercely over the dinner table. Our kids will gently remind us, “mom, dad, no change management!” Other times, we have to go into client meetings right after a business dispute became a personal one, pretend to be cordial, and do our best to be attentive to the client's needs. After all, in a service-based business, people don’t buy the brand, they buy you. People look to the two of us to embody the core values of our firm.

I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be on your own as an entrepreneur, and I certainly commend the men and women who do. It’s immensely gratifying to share in the successes and failures of running a business – one with a shared vision – with your spouse. We share a much-needed grit and fervour for a higher purpose and channel that energy into our business. As a young family, the flexibility for my husband and I to make our own schedules is priceless. And, there’s really nothing like the exhilarating feeling of building a truly amazing company together.

When things get tough, we remind each other why we started this business in the first place: to help humanize organizational change. And for us personally, to have greater control over our discretionary time so we can find our own work-life balance.

Here are three ways we learned to work together to become happier co-founders and stay married:

Tip #1: Know your Strengths and have Distinct Roles
In business, just as we do in our personal life, Shaheen and I complement one another and know our unique strengths. He’s definitely more extroverted than I am, is able to quickly relate to others and thrives on deepening relationships with people.  This is key to his success in business development. I have more of an “expert presence”; I have deep expertise in the domain of change management and can quickly diagnose a problem and propose a solution.

He’s a master at strategic thinking and I’m more adept at executing. Because we’re well aware of our strengths, we play to them in every interaction with our clients and prospective clients. We draw a line between the decisions he’s accountable for and those that fall to me; that way, we’re not constantly checking up on each other. And, we set separate and clear goals and targets for each of our respective roles. Yes, there will be days where we slip up and instead of asking “how was your day?” one of us (usually me) will say “did you follow-up up with so-and-so?”, but we recognize when it happens and quickly course-correct. Leverage your differences and don’t allow them to become a source of exhaustive conflict in your personal relationship and in your business.

Tip #2: Set boundaries but be flexible
When we first started out, Shaheen and I would talk business non-stop. Now we have set some clear rules for our business time and our personal time. The general rule is that business talk is not permitted after work hours or on weekends, so we can devote our time, energy, and focus to family and our relationship. The dinner table is not the place to discuss business and it’s definitely not acceptable to talk business in the bedroom. If one of us doesn’t want to talk business, then nobody talks business.

Family vacations are also considered sacred and we plan them out a year in advance. Unless absolutely necessary, we generally don’t work while on vacation. We let our phone batteries run down when we’re camping, and we leave laptops at home when we’re at our favourite resort. It’s important to us to come back from a vacation refreshed and we encourage our team members to do the same. This means we have to be good role models for our team and for our family and walk-the-talk when it comes to our values. 

There are going to be days when rules need to be flexible; drawing a clear line between personal and business isn’t always realistic. Communicate it, agree to it, and move forward. We usually say something along the lines of, “I know we’re not supposed to be talking business right now, but this is critical, and I need your help...” and continue the conversation. Running a business and living a life together requires mutual respect and constant communication. It's essential to be good at transitioning between the two worlds, many times a day.

Tip #3: Always put love first
Although you’re spending what may seem like endless days and nights building a business together, you need to consciously take time to work on your relationship. The same energy, focus, and intention that's brought to the business must be brought to the relationship. A relationship is about far more than just work.

In the beginning, we were so busy with our business and our family life that we neglected our relationship. Our communication began to break down and our relationship began to suffer. We realized that we hadn’t done a date night in months. In fact, we couldn’t find anything else to talk about other than business. Problems can escalate when the partners don’t know how to shut off.

Now, we schedule date nights once a month, book a nanny, and spend a carefree night on the town. We strictly avoid business-talk and often talk about personal hobbies or life goals. My hope is that this strong emotional foundation carries through and dictates our success.

Final words
As a result of building a business together, Shaheen and I have learned a lot about each other’s strengths and weaknesses – and respect each other even more. We’ve deepened our appreciation for the skills and talents we each possess that contribute to the success of our business: a category of success we may not have seen as individuals. Although I’m still not a kamikaze risk-taker, I love being an entrepreneur and trusted advisor, and being able to share the experience with my husband. We are thrilled about the vision we have for Pragilis and look forward to continuing to share our entrepreneurial journey.

What was your journey into consulting and how do you define work/life balance?

Mumtaz Chaudhary is an organizational change management professional with over a decade of experience in delivering transformational change programs and building engaged cultures in large-scale and complex environments. With a certification in the Prosci® methodology for change, and armed with experience in the post-secondary education, energy, heavy machinery, mining and financial sectors, Mumtaz is a hands-on, high-quality, and driven management consultant with proven agility. Mumtaz is an active member of the Vancouver business community as a volunteer mentor for the SFU Mentors in Business (MIB) program and serves on the Board of Directors for the BC Organizational Development Network (BCODN). She is also a CMC™ candidate, working towards her designation in management consulting. 

Mumtaz is Executive Director and co-founder of a boutique change management consultancy called Pragilis Solutions. Pragilis is a resource for business leaders who want to ensure positive, successful and sustainable change, in turn, providing their organizations with a strategic and competitive advantage. Mumtaz, and her co-founder, Shaheen Chaudhary, are leading a talented team of change management professionals at Pragilis who help clients in a variety of sectors in Western Canada.