Entrepreneurial couples are in it for richer or for poorer
When Arshi Kaura set up her accountancy business in 2011, she never expected to have offices in Dubai and India within five years.
She also never imagined that her success would involve her husband, Vikas Takhtani, 37, resigning from his senior, well-paid position as head of finance at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre to join her company, Legends Accounting Services..
“When I launched I didn’t know for sure if the business would be successful, although I always believed this was an area where a fresh approach would make a big difference,” says Ms Kaura, 35, from India, who has been in the UAE for 10 years. “We always hoped my husband would be able to join at some stage as we both believed in the potential of it.”
When Mr Takhtani came on board in 2014, Ms Kaura says it was difficult at first to maintain a healthy work-life balance, something that has improved with time. “When our second daughter was born it allowed me the freedom to work from home,” she adds.
Ms Kaura is among a growing band of female entrepreneurs, whose success has resulted in their spouse joining their venture, something the Dubai Business Women’s Council (DBWC), set up in 2002 to support women business owners, has observed.
“Husbands joining wives in their successful ventures is happening more and more to the extent that here in the UAE, many women I know, expatriate and Emirati, are the higher breadwinners of their families,” says Nadine Halabi, a business development manager at DBWC. “We’ve seen several cases where the men support their wives’ businesses and ventures because they are doing so well.”
Women account for nearly 50 per cent of business owners in the UAE’s SME sector, and 48 per cent of those are the sole owners of their firms, according to the Ministry of Economy.
Canadian Carla Conte, 36, set up her branding business Brand Creative five-and-a-half years ago after her previous employer pulled out of the Middle East. And her husband, previously a contractor working with the UAE’s military fitness department, was part of the venture from the outset, helping with the finances and obtaining new business.
“A year after setting up, I realised we could no longer manage between him working full time and supporting Brand Creative when possible,” says Ms Conte. “We decided it was the right move for him to become a full-time managing director and we’ve never looked back’
This approach is not uncommon for women setting up in business, says Veronique Ademar, partner and executive coach at Pathway Project.
“Women tend to be a lot more inclusive and therefore often have no issues sharing and celebrating their success with their husbands,” she adds. “They are also more likely to value the relationship than men, so a woman will often attribute her success not only to herself, her efforts and her drive, but also to her partner.”
Working together may seem a dream come true, but for some couples there can be drawbacks. Olivia Manner, 34, from Finland, set up Hello Chef, a meal home delivery service in 2014 after deciding to quit the corporate world and indulge her passion for cooking. Her husband, Ahmed Al Akber, 36, from Bahrain and Ireland, joined the business four months later, leaving behind his marketing enterprise Ack Solutions.
But while the business is going from strength to strength, it has not all been plain sailing.
“We have excellent days and not so excellent days,” says Ms Manner. “You have a great level of trust in your business partner, which is a huge plus of working with your husband. The downside, of course, is that work creeps into family time and weekends.”
Ms Conte agrees, saying the challenge is not talking about the business at home.
“This can be tiring and we often need to consciously stop ourselves from obsessing over work,” she adds.
So will the trend spread further? Ms Ademar doubts it.
“Most men, however modern they get, need to have that sense of being able to provide and contribute to the family life, security and basic needs,” she says. “So while we might see this happening more and more in the future, there’s still some way to go.”
Legends Accounting Services, however, has grown from three staff to 15 and turnover has doubled in each of the past two years since Mr Takhtani joined, something he says justifies his decision to quit his “well-paid job”.
“My wife and I decided it was the best long-term strategy and it enabled us to concentrate solely on the business and making it successful,” he adds. “The decision paid off as we’ve seen excellent growth in the last two years and recently we’ve been able to give ourselves more time outside of work.”
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