Productivity

Eat, sleep, work, love: How couples can stay in business – and love – together

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

Stuart Ridley
Business and Technology Journalist

Stuart Ridley is the Smarter Business™ Print Editor and has covered trends in small business, tech and marketing for two decades

It’s easy to always be connected to your business if you have the right technology, but what about family? Stuart Ridley caught up with two businesses run by couples that are lasting the test of time (and technology).

Kate Sutton and Diem Fuggersberger are great friends and business confidantes who’ve both seen their respective industries significantly interrupted by new technology and cheap imports.

Kate Sutton and husband Adam Simpson, working partners in UberKate. UberKate’s husband and wife team, Kate Sutton and Adam Simpson show that working with your life partner can be challenging but ultimately rewarding.

They’ve automated a lot of the predictable processes, like inventory management, accounts and logistics in the cloud, to give them more time and energy for core activities that still demand the personal touch.

Every item in Kate’s jewellery collection starts on her drawing pad and workshop bench and reviewed by friends; while every recipe in Diem’s range is first hand made with husband Werner and sampled by friends in exchange for hearty and frank feedback.

Creating from the heart isn’t exactly a secret ingredient, though they say it’s a big part of what makes both women’s businesses successful. It can’t be faked in a factory overseas by cheap copycats.

Balance at work

Diem left a lot behind when her family escaped Vietnam and its war in the mid-1970s, though she has kept her faith. In particular, she holds to the ancient Chinese concept of opposites working in harmony and the possibility of something greater beyond (‘Yin and Yang’ or ‘Am-Durong’ in Vietnamese). Werner’s own faith sees him contemplate the known and unknown too, looking for the best, surest way to make things work.

“We are very blessed that we balance each other,” Diem enthuses. “We’re aware of our strengths and weaknesses and have great respect and love for each in business and at home. I am the crazy one who is one step ahead of recognising the niche market; however Werner is my sound board and good conservative side, which I think is hugely important. He has a wealth of experience in good negotiations and a good reputation in the industry and with our staff.”

Werner also admires Diem’s visionary thinking, appetite for innovation and good ethics: “High expectations and pride in the work mean everything needs to be immaculate and stand out quality.”

“You’re allowed to have different opinions,” Diem adds. “Our mutual understanding at work is that the outcome should be best for the business only. We never walk away from anything that needs attention.”

Kate and Adam both worked as TV reporters and producers in their 20s, and loved it for a while. Though salary caps and the desire for more flexibility to raise children led Kate to turn something she did for pleasure – hand making jewellery – into a business that worked for the family.

After running UberKate herself for almost a decade, Kate was ecstatic when Adam left the crazy hours of TV production for the crazy hours of a growing family business.

“When Adam joined the business five years ago he brought a level of tech and web dev that I just don't have,” says Kate. “His skills are totally different to mine. He gets on board my crazy. As creative director I sometimes come up with pretty whacky ideas and he always says ‘Let’s try it and see how it goes’… he never shuts down my creativity and that is exactly what I need in a business partner.”

Adam describes it as Kate being a ‘knower’ and he’s a ‘thinker’: her gut instinct, leadership and entrepreneurship, and his focus on nutting out possible solutions and setting up systems for success.

“At work, consider your partner as a co-worker,” explains Adam. “Treat them with the same respect you would any other person in the business. Don't take advantage of a disagreement by adding in personal quips.”

“…And be consistent about rules. You can’t have owners having one set for themselves and another for workers,” adds Kate. “Write a contract that outlines your expectations, hopes and dreams. Revisit the contract if needed!”

Technology is a family friend

Both couples are quick to praise the rise and rise of smartphones, mobile broadband and access to cloud services on the move as real game changers for parents juggling business and family responsibilities.

At UberKate one of the first technological commitments between Kate and Adam was setting up sets of shared calendars for work and play back when they started dating while working in television. These days the shared calendars are mostly managed via their mobiles, and the family calendar is possibly more packed than UberKate’s now their children have lots of sport and creative pursuits.

Adam is healthily obsessed with online customer relationship and project management software that helps the UberKate team track every customer interaction from ordering via the website to production, packaging and delivery.

He’s also a big fan of web-based customer help desk software as it makes handling multiple enquiries at once a lot easier than the older methods:

“With the growth of social media there was a time when Kate was either on the phone or typing messages every hour of the day,” he recalls. “We had to outsource some elements of our social media to get her life back.”

“I think we have worked to create our business life to fit into our family life and vice versa...” muses Kate. “We tend to go with the flow a bit and if the business needs attention or the kids need more attention during business hours, one of us can give it. As long as you’re connected, that's the great part about having two people who are interchangeable at home and in the office.”

At Berger Ingredients, Werner generally leaves work mid-afternoon to collect their kids from school and then Diem joins the whole family at home for dinner. Sometimes he’ll then go back to work if his team of food technicians need to fill an order overnight for one of the major supermarkets; though whenever he’s away from the factory he knows he can track it all online.

The food business uses a cloud-connected ERP (enterprise resource planning) system that gives access to fine details on activities like stock in hand, procurement, production scheduling, invoicing, sales and transport bookings. Plus it safely stores crucial intellectual property for thousands of spice combinations, recipes and entire meal production plans.

Werner is also surprisingly enthusiastic about one kind of social media: “LinkedIn is an excellent way to connect with so many fields across our industry. We get a lot of new customers nationally and internationally through these networks now.”

Diem prefers Facebook and Instagram, as the connections are a lot more social. She spends time every day on both, sharing stories and photos with family and friends on her personal accounts and using a business account to build the warm and friendly Coco & Lucas’ Kitchen brand for her range of nutritious kids’ meals.

No smartphones at the dinner table!

How many times have you heard friends claim that ‘family is everything’ only to see them whip out their mobile during a meal to tweet, scroll or swipe away?

Adam is having none of it. “We don’t want our kids seeing us using the phone at the table. After all, they're not allowed to. The dinner table is a chance for us to all communicate the old fashioned way! Something like: ‘What was your favourite part of the day?’”

Kate smiles and adds she aims to switch off work by 9pm on weekdays. Her personal technology rule is “no smartphones in the bedroom, because who wants to be woken by a pinging phone?”

Werner teaches that it’s not only bad manners to have smartphones at the dinner table, it also takes away treasured opportunities for family conversations.

“Make at least an hour every day for family conversations,” continues Diem. “Put your phones away and be together. We need to really know our children deeply and be there for them. To instil good family values, morals and integrity; to find out what each of us did for the day. We believe this will give our girls a solid foundation in life when they are more independent.”

The joy of working with your life partner

Does the novelty of working together wear off? Not so much, note the couples we spoke with, as long as you have the technology so you’re both on the same page (or screen):

  • Co-ordination of schedules – shared calendars for work and family make it easy to stay on top of changes in plan, plus of course you have some influence over each other’s work commitments

  • Flexibility to suit the family – cloud services and access to business apps on mobile devices support both of you as the main decision makers in the business, even if you aren’t ‘at work’ (e.g. you’re looking after a sick child) and telecommuting is the backbone of any family-friendly business

  • Multi-tasking communications – email and chat apps on smartphones help you stay in touch while you’re both busy, without the full on interruption of a phone call

It also helps if you’re genuinely best friends too.

Diem describes Werner as her ‘rock, soulmate, confidante and mentor’, while she’s his ‘gem and inspiration’. They say they wouldn’t have it any other way as they’re both passionate about the business, with all its diverse projects and they trust each other’s skills and judgment.

“It is so pleasant to work together and sit next to each other,” says Diem. “It gives us great flexibility to swap roles if we need to,” adds Diem. “We’re always here for our daughters – family is more important than anything.”

Kate agrees that a family-run business offers more flexibility, while giving couples more time supporting each other.

“I love that Adam gave up his fantastic career in TV to get on board my crazy jewellery dreams,” she beams. “He believes in me every day and gives me the chance to live a creative life and still be a financial contributor to our family.”

Adam grins then has the last word: “I love that she understands and accepts me… plus she's sexy and has a great sense of humour – and no, she didn't make me say that!”

Couple profiles

Who: Kate Sutton and Adam Simpson

  • Business: UberKate – artisan solid silver and personalised name jewellery
  • Years together overall: 17 years
  • Years married: 13 years
  • Years in business together: 5 years (Kate started the business in 2003, Adam joined in 2011)
  • Top advice for couples in business when you disagree: “At work, consider your partner as a co-worker. Treat them with the same respect you would any other person in the business. Don't take advantage of a disagreement by adding in personal quips.”

Who: Diem and Werner Fuggersberger

  • Business: Berger Ingredients – flavour and meal ingredients manufacturing
  • Years together overall: 16 ½ years
  • Years married: 15 ½ years
  • Years in business together: 8 years
  • Top advice for couples in business when you disagree: “You’re allowed to have different opinions. Our mutual understanding at work is that the outcome should be best for the business only. We never walk away from anything that needs attention.”
Want more? Read this article to learn the 7 tech habits of highly successful people
Find Out More

Related News

GenWise co-founders, Dr Sebastian Rees and Dr Troye Wallett.
Success Stories
Success Stories
Innovative online GP platform named 25th Telstra Australian Business of the Year

GenWise Health, a micro business using technology to improve how general practitioners provide aged care, is the 2017 Telstra Australian Business of the Year. GenWise Health,...

Two people looking at a tablet device
Success Stories
Success Stories
How winning businesses are using tech

Every year, the Telstra Business Awards celebrates small businesses that choose to innovative, to be curious, to be agile. This year’s entrants are no different, with many blen...

iSimulate at the 2016 Telstra Business Awards
Success Stories
Success Stories
Rise and shine: Winning advice from 2016 Telstra Business Awards alumni

As the 2017 finalists prepare their acceptance speeches in the hope they might win at Australia’s biggest business Awards program, a few of 2016’s winners reflect on their achi...

Woman working at laptop sticking address labels to boxes.
Tech Solutions
Tech Solutions
Pass the parcel: How to integrate postage services into your website

Incorporating automatic postage calculators into your online store might be the critical step you need to turn casual browsers into dedicated shoppers.