Career

Going into business together made our marriage better

Once Zac stopped treating the merger as a takeover - and Sip stopped treating his wife as his PA - everything was sweet!

By Debbie Harrison
When Sip and Zac de Silva married three years ago, the two entrepreneurs had designs on each other joining their respective businesses.
Zac was running three business communities: profit and growth specialist Business Changing, business retreat Nurture Change and Nurture Her, a business retreat for female entrepreneurs.
Sip was on a hiatus from her property development business, owning and running the acclaimed Auckland restaurant, Bolaven. No one was budging.
"Sip's a super-astute businesswoman so I was desperate for her to come and work for me, but she was reluctant, to say the least," laughs Zac.
Sip chimes in, "The thing about Zac is that he's a numbers guy and I'm a creative. I wasn't sure whether these two things would be compatible."

Time to talk

After successful roles in property development and hospitality, Sip knew her next career move needed to utilise her innovative and strategist skillset. Her husband's idea of joining his business advisory company held little appeal.
"I wasn't convinced. Who would want to work together and live together while working from home? That would be a tough ask for any couple and I wasn't sure I wanted to put our marriage into that pressure cooker," Sip says.
It took some time for Zac to realise he required a different approach… such as looking at things from his wife's perspective. "In my head I believed Sip needed to be working for me, but I eventually figured out I needed to be working with her."
It was a game-changer, and at the end of 2016 the two started to work together in the business advisory company. It took some time to adjust.
"We were both used to being in charge. Essentially I approached working with Zac as a takeover," laughs Sip. "And Zac was charging along as though it was business as usual, treating me more like a PA than a business partner!"
In those early days Zac concedes there was some micromanaging. "It was difficult handing over responsibility, even though Sip wasn't just anybody."
They engaged in some honest dialogue. They knew one another's strengths, and once they determined which areas of business each would take responsibility for, they settled into a rhythm.
They agreed Zac would continue as the face of the business, working directly with clients, presenting business planning workshops and hosting their business retreat, Nurture Change. Sip would create strategy, work on the finer details behind the scenes with stakeholders and produce events for their community of business owners.
It was Sip who came up with the idea of running Zac's one-on-one coaching sessions on business planning as a group workshop. Zac needed some convincing but the proof is in the pudding – they've since helped some 400 companies across New Zealand and Australia.
"Sip created a programme where I can strategise and facilitate with up to 12 businesses at a time. I wouldn't have thought it was something I'd do. Working as a team, we've been able to help each other and in turn impact so many more people," says Zac.
A few months ago, the two realised they hadn't made a formal business plan since merging, something they admit should have been done much earlier. So they put themselves in their clients' shoes, completing their own business planning workshop.
"There were things we'd never thought to ask each other," says Sip. "What were our plans in five, 10 and 15 years? The great thing it showed was that our vision and values were aligned. It's important being able to define the journey together – not just one person having the vision and the other one along for the ride."
The two and their team have finally moved their business away from home and into new work premises. They say the positives of working together far outweigh the downsides. They admit they spend more time together than most couples, especially when travelling for their business retreats. One of the best things is being able to see each other in their element, doing what they're best at.
"We have a new respect for each other," says Sip. "I think we still surprise each other regularly by what we do and the ideas we have. We learn together and grow together, which is kind of cool."

Marriage coach

They are mindful about drawing the line between work and personal time. Sip takes the lead on their healthy work/life balance focus.
There's a "no technology after 7pm" rule, and no shop talk either, especially around their kids (they have five older teenagers between them).
If one of them mentions work over dinner, there's always a light-hearted punishment in store, such as doing an extra household chore. However, they're not joined at the hip and are conscientious about finding time to do their own thing. Zac is a die-hard sports fanatic and Sip regularly works out and attends yoga, as well as spending time with friends.
Zac and Sip live by the principles they preach and advocate, and see a counsellor once a month. "We make it a regular thing. We're huge believers in working out issues and improving our relationship. For us it was really important to make it a standing appointment and, regardless of where we are at, it's a priority," Zac says.
"If anything comes up during the month we write it down and take to our next session, rather than stewing on it," says Sip. "Zac's a business coach so we see the value in having a marriage coach. It reminds us we're on the same path but just communicating it differently – half the time our counsellor just acts as a translator for us," she laughs.
"People often say to us they couldn't work with their wife or husband, but it's better than I had hoped for," says Zac.
"I think the best thing is the trust you have that they completely have your back and always have your best interests at heart. We are on the same team and those high-five moments mean more when it's been something we've done together."

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