Can Working With Your Spouse End Up Causing More Conflict Than it is Worth?
Many people would answer the above question with a hearty YES. However, I beg to differ and this post is my personal story on why it can work and how it can become the most satisfying, fun and profitable life-long experience a couple can have in business.
Dec 27, 1987: A Day That Will Forever Live in Infamy
I am very proud to say that Connie and I have been partners in marriage and partners in business since December 1987. Yes, that is a long time ago some would say we started in another century (and by the look of the photos of me from the wedding, that may just be true ). When we got married, we were young, naive and full of enthusiasm for what life was going to bring us. Now, 27 years later – we’re not as young, definitely not naive and aren’t waiting for what life will bring us… we continue to go after it. There is hardly a week that goes by where we don’t take a few moments to celebrate what we have been able to accomplish as a team. Accomplishments that were never even on our radar when we began our journey together.
The Road Is Not Smooth Or Straight – And If it Were Life Would Be Boring
As with most couples, we weren’t always on the same page every day. Over those 27 years, we hit some corners a little fast and we were thrown off by speed-bumps. There were tears of joy and sadness, there was fun and there were arguments (yes we do both of these loudly and with enthusiasm), there were plans that blew up in our face and others that surpassed our wildest dreams. In other words it was, and continues to be, real life. But even in the toughest times we stayed committed to our vision , our plan and most importantly to each other. A vision and plan that was, and still is, constantly evolving and is a combination of both of our passions, goals and lifestyle choices. Yes, our own evolving “Personal Belize.”
This morning I received the following quote in my Inbox and it sparked me to make this post as it is exactly what Connie and I have done our whole lives:
“Treating ‘any old job’ as if it were your dream job, Don, is the fastest way to spark the kind of life changes that will yield your dream job. Same for any old house, friend, day, life. “
We have worked very hard at believing that wherever we were living was “The Best Place To Be” (even when it was quite clearly not) and whatever we were doing was “Exactly What Needs To Be Done Right Now” (even if it wasn’t what we WANTED to be doing). In fact, at the end of this rather long blog post, I will give you a link to an article that Connie recently wrote about her philosophy on life and how she has turned it into a winning formula along with a few other links to our personal lives, traveling, farming and discovering.
But first, below is the transcript of the most uncomfortable interview I have ever given. With no prep, no economic fundamentals and no clear message ready, Connie and I sat down with Melanie Reuter to discuss how we as a couple have worked together for so long. I hope you find it helpful:
Real Estate Investment Power Couple was not always on the Same Page
By Melanie Reuter
Don Campbell has been a REIN icon for decades. As the prominent figurehead of real estate investing knowledge and action in Canada, he is never reticent to attribute his success to the hard work and perseverance of his team. It scores him big points at home too, given that he sleeps with his long term business partner, Connie Campbell.
As long as I have known Don, which has been over 40 years by the way, he has always attributed his success to his partnership with his wife, Connie. Their complementary skills and dedication to making things work has carried them through real estate and business ups, downs, and flat markets over 20 years. Their journey has not always been easy but their marriage has flourished and become the key success catalyst in their over 26 years together. In this article, Don and Connie share their insights into how they make it work and offer sage advice to couples who are in the same situation – living and working together in a real estate business.
The Key Move #1
In 1987, right after they were married, they had an opportunity to move to Edmonton and leave the area where they grew up and where their parents still resided. This move proved to be a foundation for all of their success as this distance allowed them to set up their own rules for life, how they were going to treat each other, work together and live their lives together instead of absorbing what they knew from their families and away from the familial pressures. “If you want to run a business together, put space between your parental and societal influences…it creates independence and forms a team between you and your spouse,” says Don.
In the early 1990’s Don felt he had peaked and wanted more; Connie was feeling the drain of commuting. Connie said of that time, “We are young and dumb, and thought, let’s do this. Whatever we do Don, we will be successful at it.” Connie said they “never asked for advice. We knew we could do it. In 1992, there was an opportunity to expand on REIN and “against convention, we moved from Edmonton to Vancouver and started new” again.
It was at this time, with Don heavily vested in REIN that they really began to work closely together. While Don worked at the foundations of REIN, Connie did freelance bookkeeping and accounting in their shared home office. The key word here is SHARED and that fatal design flaw was a hurdle that took them time to overcome. Don says, “We didn’t understand importance of communication and drawing boundaries like we do now. It was difficult to spend 24 hours together without these boundaries.” To alleviate the pressure the communal office created, Connie decided that she would spend some time outside of their space and start visiting clients. Connie restructured and started leaving office.
Alberta Bound…. Again
Five years later in 1997, they decided it was time to expand REIN in Alberta and they moved to Calgary. It was at this time that their real estate portfolio exploded in size, which meant they had to once again work more closely together. The pair was running and managing REIN, while building a strong portfolio, and really had to focus on defining who did what.
With REIN growing, their portfolios exploding so quickly and other external pressures put onto their relationship, they realized they had to galvanize or it would blow them apart. They deliberately looked for something that was not work that they could do together. That’s when they took up golf, and like everything they do, they jumped in fully. Don quickly realized that on top of eating, sleeping, and working together, it was not a great idea to coach her at golf… so it simply became a game.
Connie said that golf really worked for them. “When playing golf well, you have to empty your head of all other thoughts. We had to leave work behind and be fully engrossed and this allowed us to be together but under a different context. It became a shared passion and an actual break.”
In 2000, after Don’s dad had a stroke and heart attack, they moved again, but this time back to the Fraser Valley, back to where they grew up and first met. It was like coming home but now with a whole new context and relationship strength. If truth be told, the couple surmise that had they remained in their hometown the whole time, they don’t think their marriage would have lasted because of the external pressures would have pulled them in separate directions. Don and Connie firmly believe that couples must make the time and commitment to set their own life rules and live their lives how they want, not by what society or their family thinks. Early in their relationship, they got rid of the word ‘should.’ “Our motto became: We must stop ‘shoulding’ all over each other,” says Don.
Having had 13 years to work and play together before moving back home, they were over the threshold and they knew they would make it “until death do us part.”
“You see couples fighting and hear them say “screw it! I’m out! Giving up is now an ok and easy choice for many, when simply setting rules and boundaries, while removing the ‘shoulds’, could solve so many relationship issues.
The move away and then the move back “home” proved worthwhile for both their personal lives and their careers and in 2002 Don and Connie took full international ownership of REIN. Connie continued to do the company’s bookkeeping, accounting and HR. Don, now instead of just being operational, was at the front of stage. This changed their dynamic again. Don’s focus became divided between back-office operations and the added pressure of stage presentations -a tough position he would maintain until 2011. It was a pressure point for everyone involved. Don’s two roles meant that REIN staff still expected him to be as available for leadership and discussions on operations as always, yet his focus had to be on ensuring that the REIN live presentations were industry leading. The shift didn’t go as well as assumed because the expectations of time and input were the same, but each role had different demands. It added more responsibilities to everyone’s plate, including Connie’s. Also, once again, their portfolio was growing in leaps and bounds. They were “eating their own cooking”, meaning they trusted REIN research and went all in; in one year they bought five buildings! Every month there was another closing.
At that time, they were paying between $38,000 and $51,000 a door, what at the time seemed incredibly expensive. To close on these deals they used both their own money and Joint Venture money and Don recollects that, “it felt like we were on a wild roller-coaster of change.” But given the foundations they had set for their relationship in the previous years, they knew that no matter what, they would come out the other end OK.
On the first building they had a one year mortgage, refinanced it, and pulled out $128,000 to buy another building in the same neighbourhood, a 21-unit building in Queen Mary Park in Edmonton. This was, and continues to be, the most lucrative building they have ever owned. Along with this down payment, they assumed the mortgage, which happened to be 8 years into its amortization, meaning that more of the principal was being paid off than if they arranged a new mortgage. In essence, they bought this building with none of their own money down, as the down payment was just cash from the market increase on the first one. All the while the explosive growth in REIN and their portfolio continued.
Chief Fun Officer
Don and Connie are happy to offer insights into how they were able to grow so successfully. One of their biggest secrets was that when they got married, Connie knew that Don would work until he fell over. So to counteract this, Connie was put in charge of booking holidays long in advance so they had to go, leave their businesses and recharge. From their first days together, even when they had little money, they promised each other that they would go away every quarter and got to place where Connie, Chief Fun Officer of their marriage, would book their next holiday before first one was over.
Those trips may be “big celebrations” or small journeys but they became critical sign-posts along the way. Without them being pre-booked, they would have found excuses to just keep working. It also worked nicely into their philosophy of celebrating the large and small wins along the journey of life Don says, “If we even see one of our properties go up in revenue or value (no matter how small), we celebrate!”
They both feel that the relationship works because they have the same goals. “All the energy you are expending is going to your own gain, as a couple. It works when you are a team and within that team you have to learn to be flexible with what your roles are. If there is something you don’t like doing, there may be times that you just have to do it anyway if it furthers the cause,” Connie says. Recognize which battles to fight.
The Garbage Must Be Taken Out
Connie believes you have to ask for what you want within your relationship and become a manager of expectations within the relationship. “Clarity is king. Instead of saying please take the garbage out, say can you please take garbage out now?” Don expands on this, “Requests need to have time values on them and if the other party cannot fulfill in that time frame, it is their responsibility to give a time when they can; thus, eliminating the disappointments that come because the other party couldn’t read your mind about what you REALLY wanted.” Connie; “In a business it is the same. I have to say, can I get that information for the net worth statement now? To which Don is free to say, no, I need more warning than that, how about at 5pm. This means he knows what I want and when and can respond so there are no unmet expectations.”
They say they fight, but now they only fight the battles worth fighting. And there is no passive aggressiveness, the fights are strong, but there is no ambiguity about the issue and NEVER does it enter either’s minds “That’s It, I’m Out.” And the safety in that knowledge allows the ‘discussions’ to go where they need to go to get resolution, with no long-term relational risk.
But the relationship works because the disagreements strengthen their love, respect, and trust. After this long together Don says, “You know all the landmines, all the buttons, and you choose whether or not to push them.” But in the rowboat together, they know to row in the same direction. We have a shared Personal Belize and we work on it and towards it together.
Along the way, the pair has had to figure out that the relationship is not a competition. “There will be times when you will feel you are doing more than the other person… that is the truth in all relationships. But it is important to remember that the other person probably feels the same way” Connie believes.
They both believe in hard work and doing what you say you are going to do. Connie says people who are still trying to find a life direction can learn from their experience, “You just have to work your ass off. If you can’t figure out what your passion is, just put your head down and work at something, and become the best in that. If you know nothing else to do, if there is nothing you love, then just work hard at SOMETHING.”
Other People’s Values
There is no question in his mind that Don could not have been a real estate star without Connie’s support and passion and her hard work. “Some people’s spouses don’t want to know anything about real estate; they have no one to bounce it off of, no one to share wins and losses.”
“Having a partner on the same page is like rocket fuel. Could it still happen without one? Sure, but not as quickly or as deeply or as successfully. You will inevitably lose speed or happiness. And if you don’t currently have the full support of your spouse, it is probably because you haven’t found a way to link your goals to your spouse’s goals and how working together, or at least believing together, can pay-off for the whole family. Take a risk, step out of your own point of view and think your plan through your spouse’s eyes. Discover what’s in it for her? Does he want great vacations, or more time at home with the kids, or a great car? Whatever it is, begin to link your real estate or business goals with your partner’s goals and you will begin to have buy-in.”
And one final suggestion Don leaves us with: Ask your spouse, ‘What is your highest value? From then on, work incredibly hard to make it a reality and speak to it in everything you do.”
As promised here are the links to other non-real estate, more personal pages of ours (follow along if you’d like to know even more about who we are and what we do and why we do it):
Connie’s Food blog: Growing, Cooking and Sharing – Life is Great with Food, Wine Travel and Friends This is also where you can find her article on Sacrifice vs Compromise I mentioned at the beginning of this long post
Our Extensive TripAdvisor Account: We review our experiences with Travels, Hotels, Restaurant and Bars around the world
My Facebook Page: Farming, Travel, Fun, Philosophy and a bit of economics
Connie’s Facebook Page: Food, Business, Travel and Opinions
Please feel free to share your thoughts, experiences and questions below in the comment section.