28

To cut a long story short, my company is set up like this:

51% is mine, the programmer
39% is my wife's, the artist
10% is my father's, who helped set up the company

However, my wife has only been a burden lately. As far as our relationship goes, I am extremely passive and she is very much the alpha personality. I'm fine with that but she is using that to try and force decisions to be made.

For instance, our first project has been live for several years. It is very much in need of a "version 2.0" remake, but my wife is insistent on just rewriting the code without changing any of the appearance (which in my opinion is extremely outdated)

It should also be noted that she hasn't worked in about ayear. I really need to remove her from the company and take over, but I have no idea how to go about it.

How can I effectively remove my wife from the company without causing significant problems?

  • 4
    "No" is always more powerful than "Yes" which is probably what makes her appear to be more Type A and dominant in the relationship. Going over somebodies head is a very passive aggressive thing to do so that isn't a good course of action. Your only choice to maintain control at this point is to work a compromise, which is basically what a marriage is. – maple_shaft Mar 19 '13 at 14:31
  • 10
    You fail to mention if you are still "with" her, and if you plan to keep it that way. If so, this is a no brainer - "Yes ma'am." – Leonardo Herrera Mar 19 '13 at 15:07
  • 10
    I wouldn't have posted this on my real account. – CodesInChaos Mar 19 '13 at 15:42
  • 16
    Get a marriage counselor. Your graphics are the least of your problems. – user8365 Mar 20 '13 at 13:37
  • 5
    Quite hilariously, actually. She's not my wife any more, and she's trying to sue me in the state of Georgia (where we were married) for things I have allegedly done with the UK-based company. I have an amazing lawyer taking care of things, and I've been generally much happier and more productive since. Thanks for the follow-up, Kate! – Niet the Dark Absol Mar 24 '14 at 14:35
43

I am married to my business partner, and we both work in the company all the time. We each own one share of the company and there is no third share. We have no shareholders' agreement: the lawyer who helped us incorporate said "if you ever need a shareholders' agreeement you'll have much bigger problems and the agreement won't help you." We formed the company in 1986 and incorporated (and got that advice) in 1989. Still married, still running the business together. Over the years there have been times when one of us carried more weight than the other for various reasons, but it's always come back to a happy and productive balance. Also over time we've changed who does what or which of our skills we use according to what the company needs or what else is going on in our lives.

The only way you get out of this still married and a relatively happy couple is if you work together as a couple to make a decision, whether it's to replace her in the business, to get her working in the business again, or to release version 2 with the old look and continue with not really having an artist in the company.

With or without a mediator or therapist, you need to understand what has been going on for the last year. That you can describe her behaviour as "not working" and think you can solve it by firing her surprises me a lot. Maybe she's depressed. Maybe she's been busy with something you didn't mention, like a newborn baby or a dying parent. But if she's just on the couch eating bonbons saying "the interface is fine, you go and redo the code" then firing her (presumably so you can hire a replacement) is not going to go well. First and foremost you must understand why she is doing what she is doing.

Once you understand it, the next step is "what do you want"? Why do you need to fire her to get a new look? What if you brought in some "help" for her - someone to do the new look? Are you more concerned that someone with a 40% share in the company isn't doing any work? Would you be paying her anyway, perhaps for tax reasons? Or paying you more without her salary, with the same total family income either way? Would you be happy if the look stayed the same but she started working - on code, on marketing, on paperwork - or do you just really really want the look changed?

Once you know what you want (including whether or not you want to stay married) and why she stopped working, then there is a chance that the two of you can move forward together with a plan you both like and get to a happier place. But you deciding to fire her as step 1 is surely not that plan.

  • 9
    I really like this answer, it addresses the underlying issues that might be causing the problem to arise in the first place and how to solve it – Rhys Mar 19 '13 at 13:49
  • 2
    Thank you for your input. She actually spends most of her time on the couch reading manga, then comes and tells me all about it at length even though I've told her I'm not really interested. I'm the one with family issues (strained relationship with my mother, grandfather right now having surgery for a blood clot in his brain...). Anyway, I'll take your (and everyone else's) advice into account. – Niet the Dark Absol Mar 19 '13 at 14:20
  • 1
    @Kolink Perhaps she just needs to be convinced that their might be a problem with the graphics. There are services that you can hire to audit the L&F of your product and provide constructive third party feedback. If the feedback is good then you were wrong and you can drop it. If the feedback is negative then leave it up to her what she wants to do, but either way she can't hide behind the excuse that everything is just fine anymore. – maple_shaft Mar 19 '13 at 14:38
  • @Kolink if it's the case that she is on the couch reading manga, then get rid of her. From what I can see this is a run at home enterprise, which will make it even more difficult, but if you are serious about making a business that works, she obviously isn't too keen on supporting that and also isn't too keen on improving your futures together, both personally and professionally. If she would rather sit on the couch than commit, what does that tell you? – rickyduck Mar 19 '13 at 15:39
  • 12
    @Kolink imagine she worked somewhere else (WFH perhaps) and she stopped contributing, sat on the couch, and didn't want to talk about work, but you knew they might fire her. How would you deal with that? Forget for a moment that it's you who wants to fire her, and think about "my wife is risking getting fired? I wonder why?" In other words take a little time to be husband first. This may lead to you not needing to fire or divorce her (or it may make it clear what you need to do.) – Kate Gregory Mar 19 '13 at 16:05
20

Recipe for Disaster

I cannot emphasize the need for caution, caution, and more caution with the path you're talking about taking. You are playing with fire, and you don't want to get burned. Proceed incredibly carefully, thinking about the worst possible situation (broke, divorced, unemployed, with pissed off ex-customers) before acting.

Four cups of perspective

Which is more important, your business or your relationship? That question is at the heart of whatever action you take. Since the two are intertwined, taking action on one will have impact on the other.

Add two tablespoons of preparation

Have you discussed this with your wife/partner at length? Have you spoken to your father? Do they understand what your opinion is? Do they have a different suggestion about the direction of the company? Is this something you can find a good compromise for?

Adults have discussions with other adults. Especially business associates and family members. If that isn't possible, you may want to address the core issue first, and then have a discussion about the business. It doesn't sound like the business will go under if you sort out more important issues first.

Let sit for 15 minutes

After you know what everyone thinks about the situation, think about the consequences of whatever action you take. To pilfer some of the solutions provided by nadyne:

Get a mediator or a couple's therapist, and work with them to figure out how to proceed

Realize that your wife may resent you using a therapist to get your way in a business decision. I know I would.

Just rewrite the front end without her permission

Realize that your wife may resent you acting unilaterally without their consent on the business side. I know I would.

Get her buy-off that she should formally sever ties with the company so that you can have the flexibility to do what is necessary for the future of your product

Realize that your wife may resent you asserting that this is your product/business when she owns 39%. I would too, especially if you had given me 49% of the company when you were of sound mind and body.

The point is that taking unilateral action without the preparation (discussing like adults and removing any barriers to that discussion first if they exist outside the context of this decision) will cause problems in your relationship. No offense, but it isn't really nice to do things unilaterally that impact other adults without consulting them about it first.

If you care about your relationship, which is the first thing you should be considering, it probably isn't a good thing to do not-nice things to your wife.

Let simmer at impossible heat for several years

Understanding all the above, and deciding "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead", realize that this can cause significant long-term issues both maritally, legally, and professionally. Be very sure you carefully review any contracts involving the creation of the company (specifically anything involving buying out partners, dissolution of the company, etc.). Consult with a lawyer (specifically a divorce attorney, to see what happens to the business in the case your spouse decides to be as spiteful as possible, for instance refusing to sell rights in the company and/or fighting to take ownership of the thing as part of the divorce case).

Heed that advice! The last thing you want to do is to go over your wife's head, make a change she resents, have her screw you over for it, and end up without your wife, without your business, and a bunch of pissed off ex-customers who aren't happy with how it ended up for them.

I can't tell you what decision to make (at the end of the day it is your choice), I can only suggest extreme caution before making it. Think long and hard about how you want your life to end up at the end of this, and make the appropriate decision based on what you discover.

  • 6
    Just a note, he said the father in the company is HIS father, not his wife's father as you refer to, means the relationship is slightly different between them all – Rhys Mar 19 '13 at 10:01
  • Nice catch. Corrected in the post now. I think. I need to read the words said more carefully, and read less between the lines, eh? – jmac Mar 19 '13 at 10:52
  • 6
    Well, the cat's out of the bag. She got pissed off for no valid reason (again) and I lashed out with "how she hasn't taken part in the company's decision-making". She actually took it better than I expected: I am still alive. – Niet the Dark Absol Mar 20 '13 at 13:06
8

Wow, not just "a family member", but your wife. That makes it at least twice as difficult, if not moreso.

You have several options, and without knowing her (or you), it's difficult to guess which one might work.

  • Get a mediator or a couple's therapist, and work with them to figure out how to proceed. This is a very dicey situation for both your company and your relationship, and approaching it as "I should fire my wife" is probably not conducive to a happy marriage during or after ending that business relationship.

  • Just rewrite the front end without her permission (or hire someone to redesign/rewrite the front end). If she's not involved in the day-to-day operations of the business, then she's not going to notice.

  • Come up with an excellent reason for the front-end rewrite, like "we have to support mobile devices" or "we have to do this because our biggest customer has requested it". And then carry out the rewrite.

  • Help her understand your perspective about the need for the UI rewrite. Share data (or just anecdotes) of business that you have lost as a result of the dated appearance of your application. Share information about changing UI trends.

  • Discuss with her how she sees her role in the company, since she's not currently contributing (or, to put a much more positive spin on it, "she is focusing her energy elsewhere"). Get her buy-off that she should formally sever ties with the company so that you can have the flexibility to do what is necessary for the future of your product, and she can continue to focus on whatever it is that she's doing.

This situation is going to require a high degree of diplomacy and sensitivity. Best of luck.

  • Thank you very much for the feedback. I'm currently attempting option 2 of the ones listed, and so far it's been very slow going. We work from home and I keep having to look over my shoulder to make sure she's not around. I think getting a mediator would be best, now I just need to figure out how to get her to come with me ro see one – Niet the Dark Absol Mar 19 '13 at 5:13
  • 2
    Starting off a conversation with a mediator or a couple's therapist (one who has expertise in working with couples who also share a business would be optimal) on your own is totally valid too, because they can help you determine how to get her to come with you. – nadyne Mar 19 '13 at 5:33
  • 2
    I don't think this is a relationship issue - the problem is a business one. Furthermore, I'd be very surprised if a marriage counsellor or similar would even entertain advising on how best to run a business. As for the second point, this is just going to breed distrust and make the problem even worse. Hiding things from your business partners is no way to run a business. – Robbie Dee Mar 19 '13 at 13:20
8

If your wife truly cares about the business then the logical way to work through this impasse is to make a clear business case for your side of things.

You say that in your opinion the UI is extremely outdated -- Do your customers share this opinion?
If you don't know what your customers think now is a great time to send them a "satisfaction survey" and invite their comments / suggestions.

If your customers would like a site redesign (or sufficient UI changes as to require a redesign) you have a business case for it - if your wife is truly invested in the success of the business she should accept that you need to do what your customers demand.

Of course the door swings both ways -- your customers may LOVE the current site/UI and be totally opposed to changes. If so your wife is right: Rework the back-end all you want, but don't break the UI.

If the customers indicate they want a change but your wife is still adamantly opposed you and your father-in-law can overrule her. (For that matter you hold a controlling stake: YOU can overrule her - though for the sake of marital harmony it's probably better to have "daddy" saying you're right. She might still resent you for it, but at least there's someone else to resent too so you're not the only bad guy.)


Disclaimer:

  1. I'm not married
  2. I'm an engineer
  3. I hate people
  4. Feelings don't matter to me

I would strongly advise some couples therapy and/or a disinterested third-party mediator with better qualifications than I or a bunch of strangers on a Q&A site to help you work this out if you value marital harmony.
(Of course if you hate your wife & don't care if she becomes your ex-wife just tell her to get stuffed - you have the controlling stake.)

  • "Of course if you hate your wife & don't care if she becomes your ex-wife just tell her to get stuffed - you have the controlling stake." Maybe not if a divorce were to come about. A divorce lawyer is likely to try to get the couple's share of the company split equally. – GreenMatt Mar 20 '13 at 18:31
  • @GreenMatt True, but that's immaterial here - Divorce law is well outside the scope of "The Workplace", and if we start considering that aspect of things we could easily hit the character limit on answers... – voretaq7 Mar 20 '13 at 18:36
  • Good idea about getting the customer input as then it is point of fact rather than POV... – Robbie Dee Mar 20 '13 at 20:31
3

This is essentially a business problem so IMHO, I'd leave the relationship dynamic out of it. Not saying it has no weight - it just doesn't belong in a reasoned discussion of the problem at hand.

I too am staggered that you want to fire her - she owns a share of the business. She isn't just an employee so AFAIK, this isn't an option.

If she isn't pulling her weight, start pushing more of the admin stuff her way. This isn't supposed to be a sleeping partner arrangement. Yes, you both have a stake in the business, but you're both supposed to be involved in the day-to-day running.

If she wants no further part in it, then fair enough. Discuss this with a view to buying her out.

  • 1
    I like the alternative of buying her share out of the company, a good solution i haven't seen any other suggestions to – Rhys Mar 19 '13 at 13:50
  • 3
    I agree, except that this is in no way just a business problem. – Leonardo Herrera Mar 19 '13 at 15:12
  • I believe I've already covered this. This is of course an aspect, but the issue needs to be resolved dispassionately. – Robbie Dee Mar 19 '13 at 15:42
  • 2
    My only concern with the idea of buying her out is "Where would the money come from?" - Unless the husband/wife relationship has clear "Yours, Mine, & Ours" monetary boundaries this could be perceived as trying to buy her out with her own money. Were I in her position I would take great offense at that. An outside investor looking to buy her shares might be a more viable alternative... – voretaq7 Mar 19 '13 at 21:46
  • That would be a question for the OP. When I was in a similar situation, all business monies were kept separate from household accounts etc so I was bought out with company money, not our money. There are other options if she isn't willing to actively participate - she could become a silent partner. Of course, her share of the profits would be somewhat diminished if an employee had to take on her former role. – Robbie Dee Mar 19 '13 at 22:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.