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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Haughty Wife

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Faced with a mass exodus of unhappy staff, Ben Scott seems to have only one option if he is to save his business … fire his wife.

B Y   K A T E    P E T E R S O N

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 edition of INSTORE.

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real deal scenario haughty wife creates strife

ILLUSTRATION BY KARLA DURANGPARANG

At 42 years old, Ben Scott had it all … a successful, third-generation family business, a beautiful wife, adorable 10-year-old twin daughters, great friends and a respected place in the community. At least that was what Ben kept telling himself as he sat at his desk, reeling from the conversation he’d just had with Amy Epstein, his now-former bench jeweler.

Amy had been at the bench at Scott’s Diamonds & Fine Jewelry since she had moved to town eight years ago. She was, without a doubt, the most talented and most innovative in the area, and Ben went out of his way to see that she had everything she needed to stay productive and happy in her job. He had been sensing something “off” with Amy for several weeks. When she asked to meet him before opening this morning, he had a feeling it wasn’t going to be good.

Amy started the conversation by telling Ben how much she respected him and how much she appreciated everything he’d done to make her feel valuable and important in the store. She then put her cards on the table, telling him that she had decided to form a partnership with an old friend and open a trade-only shop in a nearby town. She offered to keep doing the store’s work out of her new shop on a contract basis at the same rate as before. Finally, out of conversation and out of ideas, Ben asked directly if there was anything at all he could do to keep her at Scott’s.
She sat quietly for a moment, then said:

“Ben, I consider you a friend, and I feel like I need to be honest with you for the sake of your business. The only way I would consider staying here is if you fire your wife. Things changed drastically around here when Alison came to work. She just took over. She’s rude, condescending and downright nasty to all of us. We’ve talked about this before — but over the past year, it’s really gotten progressively worse — to the point of unbearable. I can’t work in this environment — and frankly, neither can anyone else. It’s not my place to tell you this — but Sharon and Emily have already found new jobs. I’m guessing you will have their resignations on your desk by the end of the week. Ben, if you want to have anyone working in this store, you need to decide how to manage your wife.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.


After Amy left his office, Ben thought about the time, after the twins started school, that Alison decided she wanted to work in the business. She had previously worked as the managing receptionist in a doctor’s office and she made a strong case for herself. And besides, he felt that despite the gut feeling that he was making a serious mistake, saying “no” was not an option.

He also reflected on the conversations he’d had over the years with his staff. He lost count trying to remember the number of times he’d had to soothe hurt feelings, smooth over insults or patch up wounded pride. He knew Alison didn’t play well with others, but she was great at managing the back office and handling inventory. He’d tried talking with her many times about her communication style — but no matter what he said, she managed to turn the conversation back to everyone else’s incompetence. These attempted interventions invariably ended in huge fights that had week-long ramifications for Ben and the rest of the team. He even suggested Alison take an office outside of the store and handle the bookwork from there — but she said that was a huge waste of money that she couldn’t believe he was letting his employees bully him into spending unnecessarily.

Losing Amy — and likely losing two of his four salespeople — was the last straw. Ben knew that he had to do something but he had no idea how he could begin to tell Alison that she was fired. Frankly, he was scared!

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The BIG questions

Does Ben have to choose between his wife and his employees? How should he approach Alison?
Is there a creative way that he might be able to make things better at the store without firing Alison? Can he still save Sharon and Emily, or is it too late for that?


R E T A I L E R   R E S P O N S E S

Marcus M.

Midland, TX

Bud, get your wife out of there! Clearly she doesn’t have the personal skills. And she was a managing receptionist at a doctor’s office? When was the last time you came across a friendly receptionist at a doctor’s office? Grab your pride like a man and do what’s best for your business. Good employees are hard to come by so you better figure out what’s more important.
 


Stuart T.

Bel Air, MD

What to do? What to do? Lose my business or risk my wife? Since he has already spoken to his wife and it did no good, I would get an outside office or set up a room at home for her to work out of. Explain to her that the help have all left and the reason why. The choice then is up to her: Either lose her family income or take this deal.


Zachary K.

Mason, OH

 
Family businesses and the accompanying dynamics are the most difficult and complicated part of our industry. To deal with this, they should hire an objective outsider like a consultant. All parties, including the owner and his wife, agree to abide by the consultant’s recommendations. If the consultant is worth his salt he will make the tough decisions for the sake of the business and allow the owner some emotional distance from the hard choices.
 


Stew B.

Natick, MA

I have a friend who is a high-end business consultant. He told of spending two weeks with a midsize company trying to get to the next level. He further shared that his final report to the founder/CEO consisted of two words: You’re fired! The man was getting in the way of his own growth. If Ben were to try to tackle this situation himself, he may need a divorce lawyer on speed dial.
 


Sonya J.

Fresno, CA

If the bench jeweler has the appropriate personal presentation, I would make her the floor manager immediately with additional benefits according to sales. This should please all employees. The gentleman owner becomes the GM and his wife becomes the bookkeeper. If she has anything to say, it must be run through the GM prior to him approaching the floor manager. If she cannot handle this, she should be relocated! She should see that if that bench jeweler leaves, the entire operation could be heading downward! She needs to use her power elsewhere.
           


Shannon M.

Tyler, TX

Mr. Scott must make the tough decision to get the “cancer” out of the store. If I were Ben, I would assure my jeweler and other employees that Alison is gone and that he will be taking time with her away from the store to work things out. Everything will not necessarily work, but it’s the only chance I can see for either the business or their marriage to survive.
 


James S.

Westboro, MA

i
Time to let your wife go, it’s obviously not working. Also, it could be affecting your home life. Getting a bench person is hard enough, plus you do not want her working in the next town.
           


Megan C.

Poulsbo, WA

While this is a very delicate situation with a marriage at stake on one hand and a livelihood on the other, the only way out of this is with a plain, tactful, respectful conversation between husband and wife. Since hints and beating around the bush aren’t working, he needs to decide that the health of his marriage is better off with her working elsewhere. I suspect he would have fired any other employee with the same behavior long ago if she weren’t family. They each need to decide what’s most important to them and take action. A tough conversation for sure.
 


Joe K.

Lantzville, British Columbia

It’s been a rule for me to not have my wife in the store for any kind of work (although socially, yes). She works from home doing books, social media and inventory, etc. Ben should move his wife to a home office and keep her away from the store and staff. Besides, the kids probably would like her home after school. I’m sure he could accomplish this in a nice way.
 


David G.

Atlanta, GA

e
This happened to me over 30 years ago. Caused great business problems and a divorce. Hard to think about at the time but Ben hired his wife and should have thought like this when his wife asked to work in the business. Better to say, “Odds are against it working; let’s have separate careers.” He should go to a counselor with his wife to start the process of her exiting the business smoothly.
 


Elysia D.

Historic Spencer, NC

Wow, talk about being stuck between a rock and hard place. Happy wife, happy life right? Having worked for many family-run businesses I have seen this play out many different ways. Some couples have a volatile relationship and function on chaos like it’s a normal thing. For employees trying to work around this type of environment it is often more than a challenge, it’s downright impossible. I say, fire the wife. If she enjoys their business and the lifestyle from it, then she best butt out. She’ll probably take it pretty hard but she also needs to see how their empire was built: with his blood, sweat and tears and with her support, love and encouragement, which kept him going when times were tough. He needs to reinforce to her, her strengths and contributions during those times and how that is her most effective position in the company.


Steve B.

Muscatine, IA

Fire her, ASAP! I lost my business because of a similar situation, and because my family didn’t have the courage to deal with it! Now I’ve lost my dreams and also lost my parents, because we don’t speak anymore.

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