Want proof that you can run a harmonious, productive business as husband and wife? Meet Dave and Anna Harrison. Their workplace safety consultancy, gives them the freedom to do what they love best: travelling in Europe.
I sat down with Dave to find out the inside story.
Can you describe for me your “aha” moment? Why and when did you start your business together?
We didn’t really have an “aha” moment, rather it was a coming together of two like-minded people. We love to travel and needed to fund this bug, so what better way than to work for ourselves? I was a true soloist when I started the business in 2012, and Anna joined me in 2015. We have more travelling to do, so we will keep working – even if it is only part time.
After spending a year living in the UK we thought long and hard about whether to return to Adelaide, or move to Melbourne. Adelaide won.
Apart from family connections, one of the determining factors was that the South Australian economy wasn’t that bright, and we wanted to help where we could. We made a conscious decision to concentrate on small business – and as Quercus Cor Management Systems we only work with clients whose culture fits with ours.
Do you think the dynamic of your relationship is different when you’re working together?
Definitely. Although we are quite like-minded, we have different ways of working, and we learned to respect that about each other. We deliberately stay professional while working, so it’s Dave and Anna rather than any pet names.
How do you view each other’s work? What areas do you think the other excels in?
We are both “people persons”, but when it’s time to get to work, we’re both very focussed on the task and work best alone.
Anna has a strong social and community ethic, and is very risk aware. She is a fantastic ideas person, a planner and a dedicated researcher; I am neither. She is very good at pointing out the strengths and weaknesses in my arguments and proposals, and provides a great balance to our final output.
Anna says that I am, by nature an enthusiastic organiser… she says that I love producing order from ambiguity and am a conscientious concluder.
Do you talk about “work” when you’re not working?
Initially, that was one of our differences. One of the reasons I started working for myself was because I had been in a high-stress position with virtually no work/life balance, so I was very assertive (alright, sometimes more than that!) about that separation. We have since worked through it, and now it’s a case of ‘if we have to, we will’ – but otherwise we know how to switch off.
How do you deal with conflict when you disagree about an aspect of business?
We both have strong minds and are willing to put our case forward. We have learned to accept the other’s strengths and areas of expertise – when unsure, we’re able to defer to the stronger argument. And if it’s not mission-critical, we agree to disagree – then we put the kettle on!
What have you learned about each other since you started this business?
Rather than what we learned about each other, it was more a case of what we learned about ourselves. We met later in life, so didn’t live through each other’s trials and tribulations of toxic workplaces. But once we started working together, we learned that mutual respect is a powerful attribute.
The other thing we learned is that, provided we achieve our outcomes, we don’t have to work at the same time. I am more of a morning lark, Anna is a night owl, and we have found that we can be quite productive working this way.
What do you think are the pros and cons of working with your spouse/partner?
As long as you maintain a reasonable work/life balance and respect one another, there aren’t that may ‘cons’. But it is important that each of us have personal time and social interaction with other people. We’re able to work around domestic and social activities without having to worry too much. Want to go to the beach to take the dog for a walk? No problem. Want to have lunch with ex-work colleagues? No problem. Our arrangement is able to accomodate such flexibility.
Tell me about your travel bug! What places have you travelled to and where will you head next?
We are unapologetic Europhiles; between us we have visited most European countries, but we haven’t finished yet. We spent most of 2015 and part of 2016 living and working in the UK, and loved it. When Australia played England in the Rugby World Cup we flew to Dublin for the weekend to watch the game, in a pub full of Irish fans who were really barracking for Australia.
We are away again later this year – a couple of special occasions this time: one of our sons is getting married in Bulgaria, and we will be celebrating one of my milestone birthdays in France.
You mentioned that you have set some strict parameters for protecting your time; can you elaborate?
I try to make Thursdays my personal time, so insist on no work-related appointments unless I really have to. I have recently discovered a pastime that lets me truly escape: I make whimsical walking and hiking sticks. I spend the morning with a group of woodcarvers, which gives me a social outing and lets me be creative; the afternoons are usually spent refining and finishing.
We are lucky that we live very close to the river. We happily walk our dog for an hour or more, which allows me to look for more sticks – and allows Anna to get really creative with her camera.
What advice would you have for fellow soloists thinking of working this way. Do you have a “hot tip”?
Do not try to be what or who you are not – you can only be yourself. It can be hard, but sometimes it is better to decline a job, or pass up an offer, than to betray who you are.