People say marriage can be work, but these Nexstar Network members take that association to the next level. Several Nexstar member companies are being co-run by people some might be hesitant to go into business with: spouses.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we spoke with a couple couples who are making it work and whose businesses are benefiting from the teamwork and understanding that marriage also requires.
Elaine and Todd Damschen of Mainstream Electric in Post Falls, Idaho
Todd and Elaine have been married 23 years, but they haven’t always been in business together. Todd started Mainstream Electric himself in 2000, and in 2003 Elaine came on board. She was in a transition period in her career at the time and Todd needed the help—he was working double duty as both technician and office staff person.
Now, their business has grown and they work together on managing the service business coaching and long-term company goals. Todd’s role is the visionary and the CEO of the company, while Elaine works as the integrator, the one who takes Todd’s big ideas and puts them into action.
“It takes the integrator and the visionary together to be effective in business, and that happens to be our natural styles, which is why we’re able to work together,” Elaine said.
They have always worked in this way, but when they read the book “Traction” about a year ago, they were able to put names to their roles. Back when they were first deciding who should run the company, they had gone back and forth and had a little bit of a power struggle before settling into the jobs they currently hold. Now, they better understand their place in the company, and of course, those positions aren’t all or nothing. Sometimes Elaine takes the lead on certain ideas, Todd said. They both agreed that from reading the book, they’ve learned a lot about their own working style and the other person’s.
“We’re kind of like yin and yang, which people have said for years about us, but I couldn’t really put it into words or didn’t really understand until I read ‘Traction,’” Elaine said. “We’re not really complete unless we have the other with us.”
She said that sometimes in the past, if they were having a disagreement or getting under each other’s skin, she would work from home. But reading “Traction” changed the way she thought about Todd and how to resolve arguments.
“We continue to learn how to leverage each other’s strengths,” she said. “I haven’t felt like I’ve needed to work from home since I read it; I understand his style now.”
It’s not as though these types of conversations never happen, but they give each other space to work out their thoughts, Todd said. He offered that the best thing you can do if you go into business with your spouse is to decide your roles and live with that.
“We’re still very driven people, and driven people want stuff done now and want it their way,” he said. “The little space gives each other room and lets you think about it, and realize there’s merit in what the other person is saying. Then you can come together after you’ve cooled down a little bit.”
It’s easy to take the stresses of work home, but they have done a good job of keeping it out of their marriage, Todd said. The two of them share an office—they sit facing each other at their desks about three feet apart. They’re together almost all day long, but they do take separate transportation to work.
“From hearing stories we do work well together,” Todd said.
“We work unusually well together,” Elaine added.
The best part of working with your spouse is getting to work with your best friend every day, she said.
“I’d say the same thing,” Todd said, “Owning and running a business isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s nice to be able to celebrate your successes together. It’s very rewarding to have your confidant there with you; that you can work through any opportunity or issue that comes up, you stand beside each other and you get through the issue, you become a better company for it.
Will and Shanna Blanton of Blanton’s Heating, Air and Electrical in Fayetteville, North Carolina
This year in June, the Blantons will celebrate their 20th anniversary. They’ve been working in the business together for the majority of that time, when Shanna joined Blanton’s in 2000.
Will works as the visionary for the company; he is responsible for the direction of the company as a whole. In his day-to-day, he manages the sales and marketing departments, and the service and installation managers report to him. Shanna works more as the implementor, managing the call center, the service department, financials and recruiting. And yes, at times Shanna acting as a direct report to Will as service manager can be challenging, but over time and through learning they always overcome these challenges.
“The challenges that first existed, don’t exist anymore,” Shanna said. “Like learning to work together, getting on the same page, and sharing the same vision. Our challenges do change as we grow, personally and professionally. As our roles in the business change, our responsibilities to each other change, too.”
The two of them have connecting offices. They see each other multiple times a day and eat lunch together every day. Shanna joked that it can sometimes be a challenge to see each other so often, but being together is also how they work through problems.
“We talk about everything and often don’t execute a decision without conversing with the other,” Shanna said. “We both really value each other’s opinion. After all, we’re both working to achieve the same goals, working together is super important.”
They have another secret weapon to combat disagreements: vacations.
“We vacation a lot,” Will said. “We do a pretty good job of separating our roles at work from our home life. Rarely does a disagreement at work leave the office. It’s extremely important to have a place we can go together to reconnect as husband and wife, completely disengaged from our roles at the business.”
Business travel together is also rewarding, Will said. They have developed lifelong friendships with some other Nexstar members who also work with their spouses.
For Will, working together as a couple has more to it than simply getting things done in the business.
“The most rewarding and important part of working with Shanna is the time we spend together dream building,” Will said. “We spend a lot of time in our happy places, dreaming and planning.”
In Will, Shanna has more than just a coworker.
“I get to spend nearly all of my time with my favorite person in the whole world,” Shanna said. “He makes me a better person. He’s very encouraging and my true mentor. I’m very grateful and fortunate to have him by my side everyday.”
When Shanna tells people she works with her husband, many people react with shock and say they could never work with their significant other.
“I totally get that, it’s certainly not a fit for everyone!” Shanna said. “There are probably a very select few couples that can pull it off after 20 years of marriage and 16 years of working together. I’d definitely say despite the challenges, we’ve figured it out, and we’re just getting started. The best is yet to come!”