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News Story:

Married couples who work together

 

Successful business partners - and married.  A profile of Domini Pettifar and Drew Nicholson of dnx

Drew Nicholson and Domini Pettifar have been married for 16 years and run one of the UK’s leading independent marketing and advertising agencies, dnx, employing over 85 people, with a turnover exceeding £8m per annum. dnx produces work which is seen globally for a number of large blue-chip technology clients which includes Adobe, SAP, Cisco and Vodafone.

Married to each other yet wedded to their careers and dnx, and de facto parents to their 85 staff, the duo have totally different approaches on how to manage the business whilst trying to ensure the optimum work-life balance.

The couple have three boys aged 15,13 and12, and live in Surrey.  The agency is based in Shere, arguably Surrey’s prettiest village in a complex of barns that has been converted to award winning standard.

Working with their team

Domini, known as Domi,  strongly believes that a company thrives and survives by allowing staff members to see a transparent career path; one that rewards their excellence whilst supporting them during times of difficulty.  She believes in a mentoring system whereby more senior placed executives devote time and energy to support younger talent.  This being borne from the realisation that learning a job never ends. She herself receives mentoring from an external business and marketing consultant.

Her role is a very hands on, supporting one with clear guidelines and a clearer reward system.

Drew believes his very pragmatic and straight forward approach to business gives clear guidance to the team on what is expected of them and the processes that they are expected to follow. Internal policies and procedures enable everyone to evaluate what a client wants, what other agency team members need to do their job and how the best possible work can be delivered.

Yet Drew believes that working outside this framework is also worthy of congratulation rather than rebuke.  He says: "The old adage ‘rules are there to be broken’ is very apt when working within the advertising and marketing industry.  One of the central tenets of creating a meaningful campaign is to ensure that it stands out from the crowd, and is seen, heard and remembered by the audience to which it is addressed.  Thus I appreciate and encourage lateral thinking and working outside rules.”

Working with Clients, Sexism and Equality

The pair believe that all companies would be better placed by having a diversity of sexes on the board, but just as important is that they all have equal voting rights.  Whilst both believe in meritocracy they also strongly believe that a company is naturally fitter and more robust if equal access rights for the sexes to reach the top echelons of business exist.

Clients Domi and Drew profess are idiosyncratic and thus need to be treated as such.  The agency adopts an approach based on no one size fits all.   

Domi says: "Most clients are extremely professional and very accomplished marketers.  They approach agency relationships in a very professional manner and expect the same in return.  Drew and I have different management styles and techniques and we find that the vast majority of clients respond better to one or other of our approaches.  So in that aspect we cover all bases.   

"Whilst many may believe that women are more conciliatory than men, it is often also the case that women can be very direct or very diffident.  So I certainly see one of my roles is to ensure that other team members, who are client facing, have been given the right tools and the necessary training to spot client’s behavioural type and interact with them accordingly.”

Finances

There is a down side to having a business together.  Financially all the family’s eggs are in one basket.

Drew says:  "We had a long and frank debate before starting the agency as to how it could impact on the family’s finances, whether two income streams were preferable over one potentially larger one.  We opted for the latter but knew it was a gamble; thankfully it has paid off.

"Since we launched the agency in 2000 we have grown in each year and now have a healthy £8m annual turnover.”

Domi says:  "My concern about pooling our resources both intellectually and financially was based more on the loss of independence.  I had always worked, I had always earned and spent my own money and this made me feel very secure and independent.  The feminist side in me certainly rose to the fore.   I had battled hard to succeed and even harder to set up my own business prior to joining forces with Drew.

"For the first couple of years we had to be very careful with the finances but subsequently the business has grown to be very robust; we were lucky, we caught the zeitgeist of the digital revolution.”

Coping with Rapid Growth

Success in a business can be as daunting as slow growth or stagnation.  It can bring strain to a relationship, although fundamentally different to that of low profit.  Fortunately dnx has enjoyed rapid growth but to continue to ensure this trajectory and the livelihood of their 85 team members Drew and Domi reckon that their working week is now 10-15% longer than it was during the start up period.

Domi says: "As a business grows, particularly if it begins to employ people, concerns differ.  We are now responsible for the livelihoods of a great number of people and this can weigh heavier on the mind than the thoughts of losing a client or not making as much profit as predicted.  Certainly more time is now spent on mentoring our teams and this aspect of the job can not be rushed.”

Drew believes that much of the success of the business stems from the equal partnership but more importantly having a man and a woman at the helm.  He says: "It can be difficult to quantify but I am convinced, after working for nearly 25 years, that men and women complement each others’ working practices.”  

Personal Thoughts

Being wedded to your job and being wedded to your business partner could have implications for other family members but Drew and Domi believe that is has enriched their family and also shown their children a rarely seen aspect of life.

Domi says:  "I strongly believe that the children have seen that both sexes are equally capable; they have grown up in a household where both parents  work and discuss their work, sometimes, at home.  The children know that we are equals.”

Drew says: "Sharing our working environment has freed my time up enormously and given greater ability to attend school plays, sporting events and parents evening.  Unlike many families where there is often an imbalance in incomes between parents which can result in one parent believing their contribution being more crucial to the family ours, in contrast, -  where there is total financial parity -  means that there is not a greater emphasis on one of us to spend more time working.”

Home Life - Very Traditional

Home life for the couple is, by their own admission, run along very traditional lines:  Domi cooks, sorts out the social life and entertaining, tries to do the majority of school runs and looks after the house. Drew handles the family finances and house maintenance plus gardening.

However, Domi and Drew believe that business owners rarely have a ‘cut off ‘ point each day, a period after which they don’t think about the business.  Likewise their agency is their business and is never far from their minds.  They accept this and do not believe it to be a negative.

Domi says: "We had both run our own businesses before jointly starting dnx so were totally aware of how it could impact on our lives and were generally prepared for it.   

"The positive aspect of working with your husband is that you can share the lows of the business as well as the highs.  There is no need to try and shield the other from what is happening at work because both already know; in fact this aspect of it is surprisingly liberating as a married couple.

"We also see each other a great deal more than most married people -  which is a bonus.”

Domi also believes this sharing of all responsibilities has made a stronger and healthier relationship and a more balanced home life.