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Marriage and Entrepreneurship, a Match Maybe Not Made in Heaven

“I’m not sure my marriage will survive. Sometimes I think I’ll have to choose between the health of my business or the health of my marriage.” Lewis (not his real name) was in a great place, in some respects. About two years ago he sold his company for $25 million (the deal value was publicly-reported), and he launched his next entrepreneurial venture about six months later. So here he was, seemingly on the top of the world. Except his family was falling apart.

I bumped into Lewis at a reception honoring Nashville’s tech leadership. I hadn’t seen him in about a year, so we did the usual catching up. But while we were talking he seemed a bit distant, not all there, if you know what I mean. Maybe that’s why, after about 5 minutes of chit chat, he blurted out his comment about his marriage. He went on to tell me how the strain of his new business was affecting his family. I asked the obvious question, “Given the success of your first business, why did you start a second one in the first place?” He offered a painful response, “That’s what my wife keeps asking me. But here I am now in the middle of it. I’ve invested a few million dollars and have ten employees, what am I to do, just walk away?”

I wish I could tell you I had the perfect advice for Lewis to fix his marriage and resolve the issues within his business. But the truth is, I didn’t know what to say. In fact, I was a bit stunned when Lewis said that because his comment was quite similar to a conversation I had with another entrepreneur just a few days earlier.

Marriage problems are certainly not unique to entrepreneurs. I know bankers, lawyers, school teachers, doctors and preachers who’ve had struggles at home. But when you are making your own paycheck and responsible for the paycheck of other people, it puts unique pressures on an entrepreneur that those who are employed by someone else don’t have.

I’m not going to end this week’s missive with a pithy “remember this” comment to make this all better. I don’t know what to say to the man or woman who is trying to launch or run their own business but can’t seem to keep the wheels on at home.  But I can say this, with certainty: even if you build a great business at the expense of your family, you will never ever be fully satisfied. You will always know there was shrapnel in the course of your success. If you feel you have to make that trade-off, please stop and consider the consequences. Tradeoffs that hurt the family are never made better by a nice payout. Just ask Lewis.


JIM CUMBEE is President of Tennessee Valley Group, Inc. a retainer-based business brokerage and transition mediation firm in Franklin, TN. Cumbee is an attorney and has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Jim is the author of Home Run, A Pro’s Guide to Selling a Business. .  He has a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experiences that make him one of the most sought-after business transition advisors in the state of Tennessee. The story above is true, but the names and fact patterns above have been changed to preserve the parties’ identities.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."

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