From the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Can a woman hire her husband or boyfriend without the business and their personal lives suffering? Vickie L. Milazzo, CEO and founder of Medical-Legal Consulting Institute Inc., says yes. She hired husband Thomas M. Ziemba as general counsel and IT manager for the $6 million training and publishing firm for nurses who work as legal consultants.

"Before I ever thought of hiring Tom, he eased his way into the business," recalls Milazzo, 48. "He had a laptop he took on trips, and I found myself asking him to type things." Hired as the Houston company's first employee, Ziemba, 43, admits he was scared. "I had become addicted to a steady paycheck," he says. However, Ziemba was already working for his wife before going to his job, during lunch, after work and on weekends. "I figured I'd get more time off by working for her full time," he jokes.

For Milazzo, the biggest challenge has been separating the CEO and wife roles. "I'm a natural leader," explains Milazzo. "I'm good at telling people what to do." She had to realize that having the final say as CEO didn't carry over to her personal life.

Having distinct duties is something Michael Roessler, director of the Orange County Small Business Development Center in Santa Ana, California, recommends. "[The spouses] need an agreement that will spell out their responsibilities." Robyne Hinds, 31, consulted Roessler before hiring husband Johnny Hinds, 36, as service manager for Cycle Pit Stop, her Orange, California, motorcycle accessory shop. Johnny had helped around the shop, and she realized "his love for motorcycles, along with his gift of gab, made him the perfect candidate for the job." Those qualities helped the store gross nearly $800,000 in 2002, its first year in business.

Balancing personal time with work can be a challenge. While Robyne and Johnny both say having lunch together is one of the best parts of their work relationship, it's essential to let your spouse "be a colleague to other employees," she says.

For Milazzo and Ziemba, eight weeks of vacation together each year is a real payoff of their working arrangement. But there's a bigger benefit: "Because we are both involved in the business," Milazzo says, "I never feel that he doesn't understand my commitment to it."

Too Big for Her Dues As her company grew, Leslie Grossman felt alone. "The irony is that I was on the board of several women's business organizations," says Grossman. But none of them catered to businesses with more than $1 million in sales, so in 2002, she co-founded Women's Leadership Exchange (WLE) to assist women in business at least three years with $1 million to $25 million in annual sales.

WLE hosts conferences presented by OPEN: The Small Business Network From American Express, offering tools and connections for managing growth. This year's conferences will be in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. For information, visit www.womensleadershipexchange.com.


Aliza Pilar Sherman is an Internet pioneer, netpreneur, speaker and author of the book PowerTools for Women in Business: 10 Ways to Succeed in Life and Work(Entrepreneur Press).

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