Couples in Business: Our risk to quit employment and start a joint business has paid off

By Duchess Magazine

If ever there were perfect synergy in how a couple runs its business, Mambo Interiors would be its model. Mambo Interiors is a local carpentry company producing high-end furniture for a niche market. It is owned by Carol and Jean Paul (JP).

The company started in August 2008 and has since grown into a team of fourteen with a portfolio of just under 350 clients. The parents-of-two have their workshop in Industrial Area, Nairobi.

And amidst the stacks of timber and wood trimmings, the sawdust and the machinery, their synergy is telling: JP trails off on a sentence … and Carol picks up his unfinished thoughts to complete the sentence.

They laughed together, sharing in a private joke. She patted his back, he rubbed her knee. There was even the odd high-five. Synergy.

Carol and Jean Paul (JP) – 35 and 37 years respectively – were both working in the banking industry before they quit their jobs to get into Mambo Interiors.JP started the business out of his passion for sketching and design, and the need to fill the market’s gap of high-quality pieces driven by art.

Aside from an elementary training in metal work, JP had no other skills in carpentry or woodwork. Carol joined him last year after quitting a managerial position in a local leading bank to run the business with JP.

Carol has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and has always wanted to get into business. The decision to join JP in his business was therefore a no-brainer.

Carol eased her transition into the business by working twelve hours every Saturday for nine months. And it was on these Saturdays she and JP appreciated how much Mambo Interiors needed her – it needed her to streamline its internal processes, to manage its client relationships, and to maintain its books of accounts, skills which JP lacked.

Identifying the strength each is bringing into the business has contributed to the success of this husband-wife partnership. And in the year since Carol joined JP, the business has thrived in a way neither had anticipated.

“There is a clear separation of duties – I handle the creative and technical side of it, while she handles administration and finances,” says JP.

This in turn feeds into their shared vision for the business: “Our vision is to be a low-cost leader in high-quality furniture production,” says Carol.

“I use my strengths to make savings on the cost, thus pricing the products competitively. He sketches the best design, and makes products using high quality materials. All the while, focusing on our boss (the customer) and our kaizen (constant improvement.)”

Carol and JP incorporated Mambo Interiors as a company in June 2011. They are equal shareholders and directors of the company.

They each signed formal letters of employment with Mambo Interiors and their contracts have a salary package which is reviewed annually, based on the performance of the company.

Their word of advice to couples who wish to get into business together? “Do it,” says JP. “Extend the respect and friendship of your marriage into the shared vision of business, and to the team you work with. Be open to sharing each other’s ideas and opinions.”

Also, break the rules together. “We have done things differently; ours was a double-income household before we took the risk to leave employment to support each other in the business. That had to be done to make our business work.”

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