Husband and wife team Stephen & Karen Wattleworth count their blessings. They have run ZooBooKoo, designing and manufacturing fun educational gifts and games, for more than 12 years. With all the emotional stress that being a couple and a family brings (2 boys age 12 and 13), they still manage to run the business together without falling out.
Stephen, who has a blue-chip background, puts it down to “just another business structure, with systems and procedures, which Karen likes to bend a little”. He chuckles. The couple have clearly defined roles. Managing a small team and outsourced services, they divide their time between their warehouse at Bentwaters Park, the former American airbase in Rendlesham, Suffolk and their home offices.
Stephen is responsible for all elements of strategy, manufacture, sourcing, finance, systems and export. Karen handles sales, marketing, warehousing and customer service. New product design is a joint effort. They are extremely disciplined and organised. “There just don’t seem to be enough hours in a day, so we try to make every one count,” says Karen.
“We have very different styles,” confirms Stephen. “Karen is an ‘implementer’ – she likes to get things done, preferably as quickly as possible – whereas I am more of a ‘shaper’, always challenging the way things are done, striving to move forward and grow. When developing anything new, I believe it takes three iterations to move from concept to completion. “We do clash occasionally, but it works. It’s a healthy, creative clash – and then there’s the making up…!”
So how do they keep that romantic twinkle in their eyes, let alone stay friends and colleagues? “We started as a covert company romance,” says Karen, “That was great fun. And we’ve basically worked together ever since, though Stephen often helps out other companies through his consulting business, Power 2 Perfom. We even sailed to New Zealand on a 42 foot yacht for 18 months. We’re soul mates.”
Stephen outlines how they make time for each other these days. “We go out for dinners or lunches; we plan events for us or for the family and holidays to look forward to; we celebrate every small success story and we get the kids involved.”
Karen adds, “It’s important to get dressed up and to try not to speak business, though we often do. Most important of all is to hug and laugh several times a day, especially after stressy board meetings.”
ZooBooKoo’s ten top tips for successful ‘company’ couples:
- Clear division of duties – write it down – change it (with agreement) if necessary
- Disciplined time management – you may have to keep each other motivated and on track
- Plan regular romantic time out – don heels (ladies!) for dinner out; cinema; early night!…
- Plan events – try something different (eg a Friday down to London Tate or the Eye, sport…)
- Remember to hug each other several times a day (especially if you were cross or stressed)
- Laugh loudly and often – share jokes and funny stories – always popping up in emails
- Celebrate even the smallest success – a crisp rosé and a takeaway, shopping, massage…
- Careful not to bore family and friends talking about your business
- Be respectful (would you speak to a colleague like that?) and don’t forget to say sorry as often as required
- Share business issues / challenges / new product ideas with the kids