Family Business Management & Teamwork As A Couple – Not Easy But Rewarding. Is Your Work Life Meaningful? Is Your Spouse Happy?

Mike & Catriona Harris San Francisco Uproar PR award
Mike & Catriona Harris reports doing business together almost cost them their marriage until dividing up responsibilities and respecting each other’s roles turned their relationship around and led to numerous awards. Uproar PR with now three offices in North America, Orlando, Toronto and Chicago (quick name a 4th city that ends in “o”?) is the co-creation of the couple.

1.    How did you meet, why did you decide to go into business together, and why this particular business?

We met when we worked together at CBS TV in 1999.  We worked together for a year or two before Catriona transitioned to a PR agency in San Francisco.  Catriona immediately fell in love with PR.  Working directly with clients to shape the growth of their businesses was particularly exhilarating.  PR was not the kind of business where you simply report on what is happening, it’s the kind of business that you get to help shape the growth and development of a company.  She particularly liked how she got to become an extension of their internal team.  The more I learned about what she was doing, the more I wanted to become a part of it.  Eventually in 2005, I was ready to leave working in TV and we found an agency where we could work together.  

2.    What are the biggest advantages of being in business together?

We get the chance to work really closely together and take advantage of how well we know each other.  She knows all my strengths and weaknesses, and vice-versa, so when a client needs a shot of creativity she leans on me… and when a client needs a strong dose of strategy I can call on her.  We are also able to split responsibilities so that one of us can usually be home with our kids while the other goes with one of our team members on a business trip or to a meeting.

3.    What, if any, are the disadvantages? 

There really aren’t many disadvantages.  If I had to find one, it would be that we are together so much that we never really get the chance to catch up at the end of the day like most couples.  We pretty much know everything that goes on in the day.  But it actually ends up being an advantage as well because when we do have time away from work, we don’t need to tell each other about our jobs.  We just get to focus on our kids and having fun together.

4.    What were your biggest challenges when you first started the business?

We had a major challenge at the outset of working together.  We both came from being leaders in our respective fields.  She was a leader of her PR agency and I was an executive producer at CBS.  We were both “the boss” at our jobs, and we didn’t know how to work together.  We had some major disagreements while we were both trying to make decisions and be “the boss”…  to the point that we would end up not talking for days at a time.  It was almost the end of our relationship.  Luckily, we figured out the problem before it ended our relationship.  The problem was that we needed to figure out how to find different roles.  We could both be “the boss”, but my role became being the boss at business development and hers became leading our account teams.  

5.    What are your biggest challenges now?

The challenges have completely changed.  Now, neither of us cares who’s the boss.  Now that we have been working together for almost 15 years, we are both very comfortable in our roles in the agency.  The challenge has become managing our growth.  Our agency is growing very quickly, and we have never had to manage sustainable growth.  We have managed to figure it all out until now.  We also just added a really strong board of directors who have experienced a lot of the challenges that we are starting to face.  They have been amazing at helping us manage our growth and helping our company to continue to flourish.

6.    How has copreneuring affected your relationship and your lifestyle?

In our experience, it has helped our relationship and lifestyle.  Unlike most couples, we don’t have work issues that we need to talk about or complain about bosses or co-workers at the dinner table.  We spend our days working together to build an amazing company with awesome people and a culture that you would totally WANT to work in.  We are busy creating a company that our employees, and we, truly love.  When that happens, we get along really well. Our employees love working there and hang out together outside of work.  That is the same for us as well.

7.    How do you manage disagreements, misunderstandings and make sure you “fight fair?”

It sounds silly, but we really have gotten to the point that we don’t fight.  We are really on the same team in building this company.  We enjoy going to work every day and coming up with the right strategies together.  We are in the fight, together.  We have a shared vision for the company and we work well together, making decisions together and that has worked really well for us.

8.    What do you consciously do to nurture love in your relationship?

It’s important that every day we put each other first.  We have such a great balance in life, which nurtures the love.  When we get home from work, Mike makes dinner and Catriona gets the kids ready for bed. Additionally, we always make time for a date night.  We have a strong group of friends who we love to hang out with, which is so important because we get to be a couple outside of the business. 

9.    What’s the most dramatic thing that’s happened while you’ve been working together and what did it teach you?

The beginning of our working relationship was dramatic.  It took us a good 4-6 months to figure out how to work together.  That was the most challenging time because we had to figure out HOW to work together – once we did, there has never been a problem again.  When people find out we work together, the first thing most people say is, “I could never work with my spouse!”  We always have the same response back, yes you could – you just have to figure out HOW to work together.

10. What was the most inspired advice or coaching you received?

Probably the most inspired advice that we received was from a sports anchor that Mike worked with at CBS.  He had a motto “Just make it happen.”  It sounds trite when you first hear it, but when you think about it, there is really nothing that you can’t do.  When we were faced with a big story we needed to break or a big interview we needed to get… sometimes I would come back to him and say “there’s just no way”.  He would reply, “Don’t tell me why it can’t happen, find a way to ‘make it happen’”.  Somehow, every time I was able to find a way to “make it happen”.  The same applies to business.  If you want it bad enough, just make it happen.

We both have had great coworkers, employees and bosses throughout the years that shaped us into who we are as business people.  Each experience you have in life shapes you for the future.  We are lucky enough to have worked very hard over the years at both our business and personal relationship to keep growing each and every day.

11. Given the chance to start over again, what would you do differently?

Honestly, I’m not sure we would do anything differently.  We love our business, we love our lives – and we have a perfect blend of work and home life together.  We both have very strong work and family values, and that is what brought us together to begin with.  So the same things that brought us together have made us successful in our working and personal relationship up to this point.

12.  Is there anything I haven’t asked that you feel our readers should know, as they consider starting or staying in a couple’s business?

Respect and trust each other every day. If you lose that, you have lost everything.

Respect and trust, a good basis for any partnership and the values that make Uproar roar. What character traits do you value most in relationship? How do you practice them in the face of life’s challenges? Reach out to us if you need support and nurturing to be your best…

Olga and I can relate to this story. Before venturing into our coaching business we were running (and still run) a thought leadership marketing and demand generation agency. Almost all the challenges described by Mike & Catriona we faced in our first year, yet it didn’t prevent us from building a successful business, and now turning our attention towards what we are especially passionate about – nurturing our clients (entrepreneurs and executives) to not only grow their businesses but also bring more harmony to themselves, their families and their teams.

So, is it worth it to start a business together as a couple?


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