How to Stay Happily Married to Your Business Partner
The brand-building master (and loving wife) behind famed hairstylist Julien Farel shares lessons on entrepreneurial, wedded bliss.
When Suelyn Farel met her husband, Julien, she had a bustling business of her own, a marketing firm called B Squared, where she did what she does best—build brands. The firm offered brand marketing strategy and graphic design, on top of running a 24-hour print shop. “I worked constantly, and I loved it,” she says. “I would sleep in my office like a typical ‘nutty entrepreneur.’” Julien had just opened his first salon on Madison Avenue, and Suelyn stopped in for a haircut. “We realized we both had the same favorite book, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho,” she recalls. “Julien said, ‘I’m like the alchemist; I’m trying to live my dream and create this life for myself.”
They had that entrepreneurial drive in common. In 2004, they got married and, in 2007, Suelyn sold her company to work with Julien full time, building his brand into the luxurious Park Avenue destination it is today. “We have great synergy and we love our work so much,” she says. “We look forward to Mondays. If I need to work on a Sunday for a few hours, it’s because I’m really excited about something and I don’t want to wait.” Their passion is paying off. The Julien Farel haircare line, which was met with great success in the US, will launch in the UK this year on QVC. In September, they’ll host their tenth annual US Open pop-up salon. In the midst of preparing for the busy, exciting year ahead, Suelyn sat down with us to share what she’s learned in the 10-plus years she’s been married to her business partner—blissfully, we might add.
1. Test the waters
If you can, work together in a small way before going full time. For example, I first took Julien on as a consulting client for about a year before deciding to sell my business and work with him full time. I had my reservations when he first asked me to join his company—what if we didn’t work well together? What if we put all our eggs in this one basket, the salon, and it didn't work out? Working together in a small way first allowed us to test our dynamic.
2. Respect each other’s expertise
Julien is the hair guru; business comes to me. We have very distinctive roles at the company, which rarely overlap. His role is salon-facing, and he spends his time creating, educating his staff and cutting hair. My role is behind the scenes—I work on problem-solving, marketing and brand-building. It’s important to define your roles not only so you don’t step on each other’s toes, but also to make it clear to the people who work for you.
3. Don’t compartmentalize
We don’t distinguish between our business relationship and our personal relationship—they’re one and the same. At work, we’re rooting for each other and pushing each other, which fuels our marriage. The passion we have for our work translates into passion for each other. My husband has tremendous respect for me. He knows what I’m capable of, because he sees it on a daily basis and shares in everything I’m able to accomplish. It adds to the “wow” factor he feels for me, and vice versa. He has a way with people that never stops amazing me. Recently, he cut Barbra Streisand’s hair—she ended up loving him and let him post a photo on Instagram (she’s notoriously social-media-shy). We’re just so proud of each other. We’re achieving the life we dreamed of together.
4. Be a united front
We make decisions as a team. If we disagree about something, we discuss it and come to a solution in private before involving our team.
5. Look at the big picture
Think long-term. Draw out what you want for your life together, and determine how work weaves into that. We like to think about where we plan to travel in the next five years, where we want our business to be and so on. It helps us to stay on course and continue living the life we've dreamed of.
6. Forgo boundaries
There’s no fine line. We fully weave life and work together. Wherever we are, we’re creating together. We have a hard time putting work away in front of our kids, but we hope it inspires them in the long term. I think the example we’re setting—as passionate, hard-working entrepreneurs—will help them to become independent women, and that, ultimately, seeing us so fully committed to our jobs is better for them. Work is an integral part of who I am, and I love that my kids get to see that every day. We usually reserve Sunday for family time, since we usually work six days a week. If we want to talk about work, we take 15 minutes alone to discuss things apart from our kids. Other than that, we’re at the beach or doing something else outdoorsy, just enjoying each other as a family.
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Photo courtesy of Suelyn Farel