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I have an offer for a job at quite a small company, but the size of the company already has me somewhat tentative about accepting. I've also just discovered that the CEO and CTO are married. Is this a red flag or a nonfactor?

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  • 23
    It's not a red flag. A red flag means it's a deal breaker. Is it a deal breaker? I don't know. At most, it's a yellow flag. How big is the company? How did the two meet? At work? At school in the same field of study? Ask for their resumes and qualifications. Interviews are a two way process. Also, if you can afford to be choosy, ask them for references. Oct 17, 2022 at 1:36
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    It's only a red flag if it affects their ability to run the company. For example, one of them basically dominates the other due to their marital status, despite the other having very good ideas and plans.
    – Nelson
    Oct 17, 2022 at 3:41
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    Are they actually just execs, or are they the owners? How long does the company exist?
    – nvoigt
    Oct 17, 2022 at 7:47
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    Did anyone describe the company itself as being "like a family"?
    – BSMP
    Oct 17, 2022 at 15:40
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    @StephanBranczyk a red flag is not a deal breaker, it's a warning sign or an indication that there COULD be something wrong/bad/needs attention/changing. (terrible analogy but) If someone walks into a bank wearing a balaclava, it's a red flag because they could be robbing the place, but they could just be cold. Either way you should definitely be suspicious and look for other clues as to which one they are.
    – Aequitas
    Oct 18, 2022 at 23:52

12 Answers 12

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It is a non-factor.

As you said this is "quite a small company", you can think of it as a small family business like a neighborhood bakery. So, both husband and wife are helping with the business because this is how they make a living together.

As long as the employment term, salary, and other benefits they offer you are fair, you should think of it as any other job offers. Thus, the fact that they are married should not matter at all.

You have a choice of working for them or for someone else. So, it is up to you.

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    Comparing a tech company to a family-run bakery is not valid.
    – Trunk
    Oct 18, 2022 at 8:32
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    @Trunk It's perfectly valid for certain types of small tech. companies. For example, there are plenty of small companies that build websites for people (and help with the hosting) that are little different from a bakery except in the product they produce.
    – cjs
    Oct 18, 2022 at 10:39
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    @cjs . . . that are little different from a bakery except in the product they produce . . . and the fact that they retire at 4 am when the bakers are putting the first loaves in the oven. A member of my family did both actually at different points in her life. No disrespect to Backerei Klinsmann's delicious pastries but skills required and the mental cooperation demanded make manual and cerebral work quite different. The OP says they have a CEO and CTO despite their small size. This betokens ambitions beyond being a perpetually small business.
    – Trunk
    Oct 18, 2022 at 11:05
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    @Trunk Being a baker is far more cerebral than you seem to think. As well as deciding upon and tweaking recipes, and often redesigning them, you also need to understand the interactions of your ingredients (yeast is pretty tricky to use), consider the environmental conditions that change how baked items come out and even modify them (such as the settings for steam injection in your oven), and so on. Plus, in a small business, there's all the white collar work of your accounting, business licenses, dealing with food safety regulations, and so on.
    – cjs
    Oct 18, 2022 at 11:38
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    @Trunk I have a friend who runs his own small bakery and it's much closer to running a small technical firm than, say, being a shop assistant.
    – cjs
    Oct 18, 2022 at 11:39
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Whether or not it is an issue is really determinate on a number of factors that both we and you cannot know upfront.

  • Is the business doing well? A badly performing business will put strain on the couple and on their finances (personal and business).

  • Is their relationship healthy? As above, if they are fighting about things inside the marriage, the chances are that at least some of it will spill over into work.

  • What their personalities are like. Some people are very good at compartmentalizing. They can be angry at you over one specific issue and still treat you justly for a different issue. Also whether or not they are secure in themselves or insecure.

For example - my wife works with a husband and wife run business - and they are absolutely lovely bosses - take care of their staff, never argue, always professional. I've worked with a husband and wife team (albeit they were engaged when I worked with them) and it was never an issue for me directly, sometimes they would have 'business discussions' that were passionate, but that never impacted my work. I've worked with another husband and wife team who were completely fine until they were starting to look at retirement and they had different ideas of who they wanted to take over the company/the direction the company was to go in.

It's one of those things you can't know for certain until you experience it.

I think it's unfair to call it a red flag per se - it's more a case that if you decide to proceed with the job (and if it's just size and the marital status, I'd say go for it) and then be vigilant in case there is anything happening.

Alternatively, if you simply don't want to take the risk - that's also fine too.

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It's not such a red flag that I'd completely forego the job opportunity. Family-owned businesses can be fine employers, often far better to their employees than big multinational companies where you're just a line on a spreadsheet the CEO has never met.

But there are some factors you might want to consider:

  • If one of the current bosses was hired in a junior role, started sleeping with the boss, and then became a senior executive - that doesn't speak well of either of them. If the boss retains their penchant for banging their subordinates; or one of the executive team isn't the best person for the job - will that impact you?

  • Is one arm of the business a toy for the 'real' boss's spouse, and if so are you in it? For example, if the company's main product is cars but they also produce apparel, and the apparel division is headed by the boss's spouse, you might find it doesn't behave like a normal business that e.g. needs to make sales.

  • If the boss has appointed their partner into a role that traditionally requires compromise, how will it impact your work if that role is performed in an uncompromising way? For example, I've seen employers where the boss gave their new partner a job as head of safety, who immediately started threatening the jobs of veteran workers with decades of accident-free work history.

  • If the bosses are near retirement age, how do you like the people in their succession plans? I've seen companies where the boss handed it over to their son, and the son decided to get rid of all the executives who disagreed with his vision of how to modernise the business, which was everyone because the son was an idiot. The company ended up sold to a competitor.

  • Family businesses often have at least a trivial amount of nepotism. Maybe the boss's child parks where they like and nobody says anything. If this will frustrate you - working for a family business might not be for you.

At the higher level, it's a question of what you'll do if this job doesn't work out. If it's one job among many in the big city, if you encounter problems you can just leave, and who cares what the boss's succession plan is? But if you're relocating your family and this employer will be the only job in town, leaving will be a lot harder.

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    For a "head of safety", being uncompromising sounds like the right thing. Oct 18, 2022 at 0:15
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I know of one example where this works great. A friend of mine and his wife founded the company 20-ish years ago: He is CTO she is CEO and the company has been quite successful with 100+ employees world wide.

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    The successful semiconductor company Marvell was founded by a husband and wife team in 1995 and grew to thousands of employees and more than a billion dollars in revenue per year by 2016, when the founders were pushed out by investors. As far as I know from news reports the husband was CEO over this entire time, and his wife was an executive VP and then COO.
    – njuffa
    Oct 17, 2022 at 17:11
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    That's exactly what's happening within my family, I am responsible for setting up the software and infrastructure for warehouse management, my wife is in charge of everything else. Our business has been growing steadily about 2 years. The only difference is that ours are much smaller than theirs :P
    – ospider
    Oct 20, 2022 at 2:26
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It is a red flag but it needn't be a deal breaker.

I would try to get more insight into this company through reviews (if they exist).

My personal experience is very much affecting my opinion on this but in my experience blood is always thicker than water and although when things are going smooth you may have no issues when things get rocky you will always be seen as expendable, untrustworthy and simply not part of the clique. Personally I would probably proceed with extreme caution.

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That can work just fine. To give a non-trivial example in a highly technical field, I helped found a startup ISP in 1995 where the CEO and the CFO/COO were married. (They were the original two founders of the business; I came in as CTO a few months after it got started to get the technical side on the right track.) It was absolutely fine. We had a half dozen to a dozen or so employees under us at any one time and they were all very happy working there. We also had a reputation as one of the best ISPs around for customer service.

If the company you're joining is a small business, as mine above was, you may want to consider how the business may grow in the future, or continue at its current size. We eventually sold the ISP because as the '90s came to a close the capital requirements for running an ISP were going far beyond what we cared to try to raise and obviously the company itself was going to change drastically if we embarked on the kind of rapid expansion that would justify that amount of capital. Our employees moved on to the buyer, but they didn't enjoy that large corporate environment nearly as much and I think many of them left for new jobs fairly soon after that.

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Very good answers already, you should really follow them. Want to extend them a little, by saying, after following the advises / steps, if you are not able to come to a satisfactory conclusion, the usual choice is "no".

You should find a work (and workplace) where your thoughts are focused on the actual work items, not on the future of the workplace because of the relationship between people in the higher management.

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What you were offered was employment, not equity (ownership), correct?

If that's the case, then executives who are married to each other isn't really something I would worry about. If your concern is that their personal relationship could at some point interfere with the operation of the company, or even sink the company, at the end of the day, you just work there, so it isn't going to cost you personally.

If you're worried that having two powerful executives who are a couple can cause a stressful environment or could make it hard for one of them to be an objective leader if there's a conflict, well, then that could be a problem anywhere where there are high-level managers who are in an intimate relationship, so the fact that it's a CEO or a CTO or an owner or whether they're married or not isn't significant, in my view

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It is a just different environment where things might get more emotional or personal at times. It really depends on their personalities.

Personally, I would avoid this sort of environment given the opportunity, but out of preference, it is not really a red flag.

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I think "red flag" is a strong term. It's certainly something to keep an eye on, and I would count it against this company if one or both partners strike you as rather emotional (i.e., if you suspect from the outset that one of them might not be the kind of person that is able to separate business from private issues very well) - but that would probably also be a yellow flag independently of any romantic liaisons among the management team.

That said, if this is a "traditional" startup company that's hiring, they have likely managed to convince at least some seed funders that their private involvement is no risk to the company success - and independently of what you think about investors in general, these people tend to be quite apt at judging such risks (and they probably had the chance to observe how the couple interacts through many more high-impact meetings than you).

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Always is a red flag to me.

As is any family firm or firm where two or more directors are long-time associates: the newcomer disagrees with one, the other comes in with the third (wo)man tackle.

You are in a sector where there's is lots of jobs and few family businesses. It's best to give this one a miss as the type I error downside is the anguish of being caught between doing your job right and appearing to challenge the sanctity of the Holy Estate while the type II error is simply having rejected a potentially good job - one of many available in the IT sector today.

I have to mention the potential low you will undoubtedly feel if you ignore an alarm bell and then what you feared would happen actually does . . . you'll be kicking yourself.

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  • What do you mean by "...as the type I error downside" (seems incomprehensible)? Oct 19, 2022 at 20:43
  • Potential bad outcome from accepting a job offer when the decision is based solely on a single criterion, i.e. a good position in a new exciting start-up company, and ignores risk attached to other criteria, e.g. the directors of the start-up are a husband & wife.
    – Trunk
    Oct 20, 2022 at 12:14
-1

I have an offer for a job at quite a small company, the size of the company already has me somewhat tentative about accepting.

That's a choice only you can make. My only comment would be do you feel they are capable, as a company, of dealing with e.g. you getting ill or being absent for whatever reason without imposing on you unreasonably.

I suspect your unease with the CTO and CEO being married has more to do with your unease about the size of the company and you're subconsciously looking for more problems to confirm your negative view. If you don't fundamentally like the company, regardless of who is running it, then that's surely a more important issue and you'll like never settle into your role there.

I've also just discovered that the CEO and CTO are married, is this a red flag or a non-factor?

It's not a red flag if they work well together and are both qualified and experienced enough to do the jobs. You may need to clarify that.

It could become an issue if there is any difficulty in their relationship. However it's worth remembering that normally you won't have any real idea about the connections between senior managers until long after you join a company. What happens if they have interpersonal problems should not be an issue for you unless they're unprofessional about it. If you found out that a CEO and CTO were divorced would it put you off ? If you found out they were not friendly outside of work would it put your off ? If they simply had clashing personalities would it put you off ?

I was in a small company once which was formed by five people who all knew each other. I learned later that there had been all sorts of interpersonal stuff going on between most of them. It did not really matter to the running of the business, which was I had no issues with. What did mater was that I later learned they were aiming to sell the business on. This changed how they managed the business. I think the operation and goals of the managers and owners is more important than the relationships.

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