The following was produced in partnership with our friends at New York Life, who are committed to providing families with the knowledge and tools they need to successfully balance work and life.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or just a hard-working parent, you could do worse for inspiration than Scott Harrison. While his transformation from self-described degenerate club promoter to the founder of charity: water is remarkable, even more impressive is how he started his nonprofit — and his family — with the same partner.
Today, Scott and Viktoria Harrison are married 7 years (no itch!) with 2 kids under the age of 3, and charity: water provides clean water to more than 6 million people in 25 developing nations. But back in 2007, Scott had just hired Vik as charity: water’s second full-time employee and creative director. Somehow the two balanced dating with tough boardroom conversations, with one relationship always impacting the other. Vik has since moved on to pursue other opportunities, but the Harrisons’ unique experience as both work and life partners taught them valuable lessons. Lessons that could help you run your family like a successful business — one where the financial partnership is as strong the romantic one.
Leave Work At Work
One privilege of the business-life crossover partnership is the ability to have candid discussions in ways that, were they with any other coworker, might land that person in an awkward HR sit-down. “We’d say exactly what was on our mind in the creative process. ‘I don’t like that at all. That’s terrible,’” recalls Harrison. “Things I wouldn’t say to another employee but I could say to my wife. And it went both ways.”
When opinions differed, they respected the other’s point of view, stayed focused on the issue at hand, and avoided personal attacks. Their brutal honesty raised some office eyebrows but ultimately allowed them to arrive at the best outcome for the business and helped charity: water grow. And it worked out fine for their marriage, too. Says Harrison, “We always went home happy.”
“Things I wouldn’t say to another employee I could say to my wife … That’s just how we worked. We always went home happy.”
Complement Each Other
A compliment, with an “i,” is always important, but the one with an “e” is even more so when it comes to working together. Complementing your partner means playing to your strengths on some issues and finding common ground on others. For example, Scott had the hustler’s instinct to build charity: water into a viable enterprise. Vik had the designer’s eye to build it into a compelling brand. And both Harrisons excel at conflict resolution, which helped them in both work arguments and discussions at home about family budgeting.
“We speak our minds, sometimes to a fault, but in the long game we don’t have outbursts due to things building up. We just have the conversation immediately,” Harrison says. “She might be right 80 percent of the time but then I’ll give her context like, ‘I paid this bill’ or ‘I paid for this coverage up front so we have to slow down.’” The Harrisons are able to resolve things peacefully by maintaining open communication, not letting things linger, and sharing the same vision.
Make A Financial Plan That Works For You
Having a financial plan is critical both in business and family. When couples are aligned on financial goals and how to achieve them, their romantic relationships can withstand the financial stresses that affect every family at major life moments — whether it’s having a child or launching a business together. Or both.
- Track Your Budget. Scott monitors the family budget to ensure bills are always paid in full and on time. No CPA degree necessary.
- Delegate. As in business, more gets done at home when roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Discuss and write down who does what, from budgeting, to bill paying, to grocery shopping.
- Save Your Points. You probably don’t have a billion airline miles from traveling around the world on charity missions. But you probably do have credit card points, which can help take the stress out of paying for things like family vacations.
- Give What You’re Able. Budget hacks help the Harrisons continue to prioritize giving at home and at work. Scott donated his first 10 years worth of speaking fees to charity: water, and over their 7-year marriage, the couple has donated 20 percent of their income each year. That’s an extreme case, but the point is philanthropy builds perspective. When couples make a difference together, it strengthens how they feel about each other.
- Agree About What To Spend. Being charitable has required the Harrisons to make financial compromises. Scott calls them “unspoken laws.” You might call them agreeing on priorities. For example, both vet purchasing any big-ticket items, and they’ve also agreed not to spend money on new clothes.
Having a shared sense of purpose and agreeing on an approach to achieve those goals helped make Scott and Vik’s business partnership easier and keeps their relationship vital. You don’t have to follow their blueprint, but you do have to have one. Figure out your process now and you’ll avoid romance-killing conflicts later.
Be Willing To Be Flexible And Evolve
The first five years of Scott and Vik’s marriage were all about work. They lived within their means carefully, if not comfortably, in a 550 square-foot, 72-stair walk-up apartment and focused on building charity: water eight days a week. Two kids and one renegotiated salary later, the couple’s tough decisions have more to do with family than business. They talk about how to care for elderly grandparents, if they should let in-laws help pay for the kids’ preschools, and how on earth they can save for retirement. “I contribute the max to my 401K and charity: water matches,” Harrison says. “That’s probably not enough, but it’s something.”
Any of that sound familiar? Planning ahead can help offset some of those concerns. For example, it’s wise to supplement a 401K with a whole life insurance policy, which many people get when they start a business or have kids. Still, unforeseen changes always arise, and the stress of those moments can fracture your relationship. You don’t have to change your goals or processes, but you may have to modify them or create additional plans to meet new and future challenges. You’ll definitely have to have some tough one-on-one meetings with your partner. To further borrow from conference room buzz words, be “agile” and able to “pivot.”
Whether or not you and your partner run a business together — or ever plan to — there’s plenty to be learned from a couple that successfully has. For example, leaving work at the office is always a good idea. In your relationship, as in business, you want to create financial goals and plans that work best for your organization. Be ready to pivot when circumstances change. Find ways to give back and make your people feel secure. And always keep the kitchen well stocked with coffee for you and snacks for the employees … er … kids.