Two weeks after Ed and Jill Wilson were married, Ed received an enticing offer to relocate from Anthos Capital’s Menlo Park office to its new headquarters in Santa Monica. Jill, however, was hesitant to get on board. Her own career was flourishing at the San Francisco office of mobile games studio SGN, and she was not excited about moving to Southern California.
Fortunately, she said, her husband framed the conversation in exactly the right way. “Instead of saying, ‘I got this opportunity and I want to take it,’ he said, ‘I got this opportunity and I know how you feel about LA. Let’s talk about this; is it the right thing for us?’” she told students during a May 18 event at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “It sounds like a subtle difference, but it actually meant the world to me. It got me to a place where I could decide for myself.”
Today the Wilsons are living happily in Southern California. Ed is still with Anthos Capital, managing a portfolio that ranges from mobile gaming companies to in-home care for senior citizens. And Jill is now at the Los Angeles headquarters of SGN, working as senior vice president for game development.
Jill and Ed were among four “power couples” invited to speak on campus by Women in Management, a Stanford GSB organization aimed at creating a culture where students can talk freely about work-life issues that likely will face them after graduation. Panelists discussed the challenges of maintaining a loving relationship and a well-functioning household when both partners are working long hours or traveling. They also offered advice for making such relationships work. Here are five of their tips:
Be Creative in Divvying up Chores
Keeping up with mundane chores can be a challenge, even for power couples who hire nannies, gardeners, or housecleaners. For the Wilsons, a flexible approach works best. “It’s not like she always does the dishes and I do the laundry,” Ed told the students. “It’s more like, ‘Who’s having a tough week? Who’s having to stay later at work?’” Then the less-busy person picks up the slack, he said. Other busy couples take a divide-and-conquer approach – like Aliisa Hodges, director of sales at Mixpanel, a San Francisco-based mobile and web analytics company, and Sam Hodges, MBA/MS ’11, managing director of U.S. business for Funding Circle, a marketplace for small business loans. “Sam loves to cook and I don’t mind picking out the recipe,” Aliisa said, “so we have a system where almost every day at 5 p.m. I email him a recipe, and then he goes to the grocery store, and then I come home and that dinner is magically on the table.”
Keep the Finances Transparent
Like many power couples, the Hodgeses have decided to take a blended approach to their personal finances. “We put the bulk of what we make into a joint pool that we live off of, and anything on top of that is gravy that we put into our own personal slush funds,” Aliisa said. That way, if they want to buy each other gifts, they’re really gifts, “and if Sam wants to go climb Mount Shasta and purchase some expensive gear, great; that’s out of his fund.” Panelists Jill and Ed Wilson, in contrast, combined everything when they were married. No matter what financial arrangement a couple has, they agreed, partners never should be kept in the dark. As Ed put it, “The important thing is that nobody gets blindsided. We’ve actually seen that happen with other couples, and it’s pretty scary.”
You Can Always Change Your Mind
After Amanda Raden’s first child arrived three years ago, she thought seriously about taking a less-demanding job, and even tried one out for a while. But ultimately, she said, “I was restless.” Today she leads merchandising for Google Express, and husband Colby Raden is head of global online and emerging partnerships at Google for Work. Assisted by a full-time nanny, they are the parents of two small boys. Looking back, Amanda said she needn’t have spent so much time fretting over what to do after the baby came. “It felt like a big decision I had to make at the time,” she said, “but the reality is that decisions always can be changed. You can always change jobs or decide to do something else. It’s not this one big decision that you have to make right when you’re having the child.”
Check in and Tune Up
While therapy often is beneficial for struggling couples, even the happiest relationships can benefit from self-scrutiny now and then. Panelists Justin Hilton and Pascal Millaire, who have been together a dozen years, said they regularly participate in couples’ therapy via Skype. “We do it almost every week and probably will for the next decade to come,” said Millaire, MBA ’10, vice president and general manager of Symantec’s cyber insurance group. Hilton, a veteran commercial and residential property real estate investor and entrepreneur, agreed. As he pointed out, homeostasis has a way of settling into a marriage, making it seem as if everything is OK even when it’s not. The video sessions, he said, provide a safe and structured place where the couple can dive in and explore the question: How are we really?
Cultivate the Romance
With two demanding jobs at Google and two small boys at home, Amanda and Colby Raden don’t have a lot of time for romance and date nights. Still, Colby said, it’s vitally important that busy couples make the effort to schedule quiet time together. As their pastor told them before they were married, “Think of your kids as guests in your home for about 18 years. In other words, you should attend to your marriage first, and the kids have to be respectful of that.” Aliisa Hodges said one of the best pieces of marriage advice she ever received concerned the simple act of saying hello. “It sounds small, but when the other person comes home, stop what you’re doing and go to the door and greet them,” she suggested. “Sometimes it’s annoying to do that because you’re in the middle of an Excel spreadsheet or whatever,” she said, but ultimately that sense of coming home “is the best feeling in the world.”
This was the second annual power couples workshop sponsored by Women in Management. Founded in 2009, the organization provides opportunities for students to build a professional network and a supportive community through access to female business leaders, career exploration programs, and skill-building workshops. The panel was moderated by Jason Mooty and Andy Schumeister, both MBA students in the Class of 2017.