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4.0 out of 5 stars An easy read with some useful suggestions, June 1, 2011
This review is from: Couples at Work : How Can You Stand to Work With Your Spouse? (Paperback)
Couples at Work is the culmination of a brief but successful business relationship between E.W. "Dub" James and his wife, Janet. It is told from a personal perspective about how they worked as "copreneurs" in the unglamorous but still profitable business of buying and selling used office furniture. Because the book was first published in 1997, it is somewhat dated in a few areas (there is no mention of the internet, for example, and Limited Liability Companies were a rare novelty).

Each chapter begins and ends with brief personal monologues from both Dub and Janet, thereby offering to readers their own personal perspectives on a variety of topics in their own voice, from their initial agreement to work together, to adapting to their respective work styles and, ultimately, to the decision to sell the business. These personal vignettes are fun to read and occasionally reveal compelling issues about working together. Some of these personal stories describe real "down in the trenches" situations that resonate with the voice of personal experience, such as their turf battles over control of the office, which is described in a chapter called "Who's the Boss?"

The authors apparently used a survey of copreneurs as part of their research in writing the book. I say "apparently" because very few details about the survey are revealed anywhere in the book. They describe their survey as having 23 questions (plus five more if you have children), part multiple choice questions and part essays. But we don't know much about what questions were asked, how respondents were selected, why the survey was conducted, or anything at all about those who responded (the size of their businesses, how long they have worked together, etc.). My impression - and this is only a guess - is that the survey was used primarily to validate the authors own experiences and ideas, and perhaps to fill in some gaps in their own body of knowledge, thereby helping them write a better book.

Incidentally, the book is peppered with snippets of commentary from the survey respondents, none of which add much value to the book; I found most of these brief quotations to be more of a distraction than offering any sort of meaningful advice.

Couples at Work is not a guide on how to run a business, nor does it purport to be. Some may also find that its more or less "home spun" character lacks sophistication. On the other hand, the book does cover a wide variety of topics, and one is likely to find good advice in every chapter. For example, in describing the need to define duties, they tell us: "This is the nitty gritty, the down and dirty of the everyday obligations. It is here that things can quickly and drastically go askew, where misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentments can brew and destroy relationships and progress... Being clear about what you expect from each other and how that corresponds to your business activities is paramount. Assuming you know what your duties are is dangerous for both of you. Not only do you risk the possibility of being wrong, but important details may fall through the cracks." This is good, basic advice in my view, especially the part about not making assumptions about your duties.

The book also has a chapter that I really liked called "The Invisible Woman," that is based on Janet's experiences with sexism in the workplace (including Dub's perspective), and how Dub's support in this area was important to her. Another useful chapter is called "Money Matters," which encourages copreneurs to be open about their attitudes and beliefs about money, and to openly discuss what it means to them and how to use it. In my experience, this is a topic too easily disregarded by copreneurs.

There is nothing truly compelling about this book that makes it a "must read" for copreneurs or for anyone thinking of working with their spouse. On the other hand, this book is very "readable" and does offer many useful suggestions and gives good advice from the perspective of someone who has "been there, done that." This should make it worthwhile for many readers.
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